AutoStore sues Ocado over development of AS/RS

AutoStore vs Ocado

Automated storage and retrieval system from AutoStore (left) and Ocado.

AutoStore, a Norwegian developer of automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), is suing online grocery retailer and technology company Ocado for patent infringement. AutoStore filed lawsuits in both the United States and United Kingdom.

AutoStore alleges its AS/RS system and robots are the foundation on which Ocado’s Smart Platform (OSP) was built and on which Ocado’s business today is based. AutoStore alleges Ocado is infringing on the following five patents: 10,093,525, 10,294,025, 10,474,140, 10,494,239, and 10,696,478. The first three patents describe a robot for transporting storage bins, and the final two cover an automated storage system and/or a robot for transporting storage bins. AutoStore’s complete complaint can be found here (PDF).

AutoStore’s system is based on storage bins stacked vertically in a grid and stored in a cubic structure. Bins retrieved by robots travel on the top of the structure. Here are more details from AutoStore:

“Ocado infringes the AutoStore patented technology, deploying it in Customer Fulfillment Centers (CFCs) for its own online grocery business and for its customers, such as Morrisons in the UK. Ocado also entered into a partnership with Kroger (US) in 2018 to establish up to 20 CFC sites in the US based on AutoStore’s patented technology.

“Ocado’s OSP infringes several AutoStore patents, including those relating to the fundamental central cavity design of the AS/RS robots; the arrangement of the lifting mechanism that enables those robots to lift and place bins in their cavities; and the robots’ in-wheel motors. A court in Norway has already found that AutoStore is entitled to ownership of its patents covering the robots’ central cavity technology, yet Ocado has continued to pursue lucrative partnerships by selling that technology – as well as other AutoStore-owned technology – as its own.”

AutoStore, founded in 1996, is seeking financial damages and to bar Ocado, and its partners, from making and selling the products involved, and from importing them into the United States. AutoStore said Ocado has been a customer since 2012.

“Our ownership of the technology at the heart of Ocado’s warehousing system is clear,” said Karl Johan Lier, CEO and President, AutoStore. “We will not tolerate Ocado’s continued infringement of our intellectual property rights in its effort to boost its growth and attempt to transform itself into a global technology company.”

A court in Norway found in 2017 AutoStore was entitled to ownership of its patents covering the robots’ central cavity technology.

Earlier this week, Ocado overtook Tesco as Britain’s most valuable retailer by market capitalization. Ocado said AutoStore’s statement about the lawsuit was the first it heard of the new claim.

“We are not aware of any infringement of any valid AutoStore rights and of course we will investigate any claims once we receive further details,” an Ocado spokesperson said. Ocado also said it will investigate whether AutoStore has infringed on any of its patents.

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