May 2, 2023Legal
Textron Inc. Awarded $279 Million Verdict Against DJI Technology in Drone Patent Infringement Case

After a week-long trial in Waco, Texas, a US federal jury has ruled in favor of aerospace company Textron Inc. and awarded them a $279 million verdict against Chinese drone manufacturer DJI Technology. The jury found that DJI willfully infringed on Textron's patents relating to drone flight control systems.

The dispute involved Textron Innovations, a subsidiary of Textron Inc., and DJI, a major player in the consumer UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) market. Textron Innovations holds patents originating from Bell Textron Inc., a pioneer in aerospace technology with a history spanning over 80 years. Bell has been granted over 1,400 United States patents and is known for its groundbreaking developments in the aviation industry, including the development of the first commercial helicopter and advanced tiltrotor systems. DJI was founded in China in 2006 by Wang Tao, the world's first drone billionaire. Textron claimed that DJI had leveraged their patents to become a market leader in the manufacturing and distribution of consumer and enterprise drones. For this reason, Textron Innovations filed a lawsuit to protect its patent rights against DJI's alleged infringement in July 19, 2021.

According to the complaint, Textron Innovations, represented by attorneys attorneys Kevin J. Meek of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, Mark Speegle, Boyang Zhang, Kurt Pankratz, Harrison Rich, Morgan Mayne, and Caroline Duncan of Baker Botts LLP, and Melissa R. Smith of Gillam & Smith, LLP, has requested that the court enter several judgments against DJI Technology in relation to the patent infringement case. They have requested a judgment that DJI Technology infringed on each of the asserted patents, as well as damages for the infringement, including enhanced damages and interest. They also asked for an injunction against DJI's infringement of the patents, an assessment of costs, and for the court to award all other costs and relief it deems appropriate.

In response to the patent infringement case brought against them by Textron Innovations, DJI Technology filed three Inter Partes Reviews (IPRs) - IPR2022-00162, IPR2022-00163, and IPR2022-00453 - in an attempt to invalidate the patents asserted by Textron. These IPRs serve as a legal avenue for DJI to challenge the validity of the patents in question before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). An adverse judgment was obtained by them in one of the proceedings, while the other two remain ongoing.

Despite the IPR proceedings not resolved, a jury in Waco, Texas has come to a decision that the drones produced by DJI have violated two patents held by Textron Innovations. This verdict has raised concerns and put a spotlight on DJI's drone technology and its potential infringement on patents held by others. DJI, on the other hand, has stated that it disagrees with the verdict and is determined to pursue all possible legal avenues to defend its rights.

This development marks an important milestone in the ongoing legal battle between the two companies and could have significant implications for the future of the drone industry. It’s worth mentioning that the US Defense Department has added thirteen Chinese companies to its blacklist, including drone maker DJI Technology. The investment ban for Americans means that publicly traded securities in these companies cannot be bought or sold. President Biden's executive order aims to counter China's military-industrial complex and military, intelligence, and security research and development programs, thus preventing US investment from supporting China. DJI Technology claims that it has never designed or manufactured military-grade equipment and has never marketed or sold its products for military use in any country.

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