DJI Sued for Patent Infringement by Its Chinese-backed American Competitor

Autel Robotics, a U.S. subsidiary of Chinese technology company Autel Intelligent Technology Corp, filed a patent infringement suit against the Shenzhen-based drone company DJI Technology Co. to the US International Trade Commission (ITC) on Aug. 30.

The copyright infringement dispute is over unmanned aerial devices and components exported to or sold in the United States. The lawsuit was filed to ITC to initiate investigations based on Section 337 of Tariff Act of 1930, commonly known as the Smoot–Hawley Tariff, and to issue a prohibition order on DJI.

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According to Bloomberg, Autel has indicated that “a ban on DJI products will be a big deal if DJI’s big market is in the United States” It can likely level competitive conditions by putting the spotlight on other supporting players in the industry, such as Yuneec International Co. and Parrot SA.

DJI Drones
DJI office

This is not the first time that DJI is challenged by Autel Robotics. On April 26 this year, Autel Robotics filed a lawsuit against DJI for infringement of two U.S. Patents, claiming that DJI copied certain flight control software and the locking mechanism on the propellers from Autel Robotics. DJI products, including the Mavic, Spark, Phantom, and Inspire Series were all implicated in the accusation. However, netizens on the DJI forum doubted it was an act of patent trolling, saying that companies “patent a bunch of stuffs in terms as vague as possible, or buys up related patents, then waits for opportunities of possible infringements”.

DJI has been a drone market dominator in multiple price ranges, and dubbed as the Apple in drone industry by Quartz. According to figures from Skylogic Research, DJI holds around 72% of the North American market of drones priced between $500 and $1000, followed by Parrot and Yuneec, each holding around 7% of the market. The company’s monopoly may have perhaps been seen as a threat to smaller competitors.

Neither company has given an official response on the matter yet.