Potentially Planted Evidence, Memory Lapses, and Unwanted Memorabilia: the Latest from the IRobot-Robotic FX Files
A feeling of being followed. A mysterious memory lapse. Beating U.S. Marshals to the scene of a search. Hints of a tampered-with car trunk and planted evidence. A company using a former employee (and potential competitor) as a consultant, perhaps without making him sign a confidentiality agreement.
It just seems to get wilder and wilder. With a hearing on iRobot’s request for a preliminary injunction against rival Robotic FX set to resume in U.S. District Court in Boston this morning, these are just a few of the details emerging from documents filed on Friday in a separate lawsuit in Alabama involving the two companies. Two of three key Alabama filings are transcripts from the Boston hearing, which began more than a week ago, and the third was a deposition taken from Robotics FX founder Ahed in Boston, the day before the hearing opened. The new filings at once shed more light on and raise more questions about the events surrounding the case (they also make plain what’s at stake for both parties—I’ll post separately on that soon).
There’s a lot to cover: between them, the transcripts and deposition span more than 250 pages. (I’m not going to even try to cover all the other documents filed at the end of last week.) But before I dive in, here’s a quick recap. Last month, as the two firms competed for a military contract to deliver bomb-detection robots to Iraq and Afghanistan, Burlington, MA-based iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) filed two lawsuits against its Illinois rival. In the Massachusetts case, it accused Robotic FX and Ahed, a former iRobot employee, of infringing on patents for iRobot’s “Packbot” military robot and misappropriation and misuse of confidential information related to the device. IRobot also filed a separate patent-infringement case against Robotic FX in Alabama.
On September 14, Robotic FX won the contract with a bid of $279.9 million. Its first two robots were due to be delivered last week. As we’ve reported, the case already has a lot of drama, including private detectives watching Ahed throw items relating to iRobot in a dumpster and Ahed’s admitting to erasing computer data and shredding CD-ROM disks. But Ahed has also alleged that a key piece of evidence—a welding tool iRobot’s attorneys seem to suggest is based on an iRobot design—might have been planted.
Now, for the latest from the Alabama filings. Some of it is brand new to us, such as the revelation that iRobot actually used Ahed as a consultant after he left the company and started Robotic FX. But much of it fills in details about events we’ve previously outlined. We’ll pick it up on the night of August 17, when Ahed says he learned of the iRobot lawsuits from a reporter from a defense publication (whose name he couldn’t remember) who called to ask about the legal actions.
Of Rounding Up “Memorabilia” and Other Materials
On August 17, as previously reported, an iRobot private detective observed Ahed loading a large duffel bag into the trunk of a Saturn sedan driven by Kimberly Hill, Robotic FX’s chief operations officer, according to the detective’s affidavit.
In a September 19 deposition, under questioning by iRobot attorney Ruffin Cordell of Fish & Richardson, Ahed said that after the reporter called he gathered up CD-ROMs with his backup design data, what he called iRobot “memorabilia,” and various other items that included some manuals or books. He then put the items into a metal-framed duffel-type bag perhaps five feet long and two feet wide. With the help of a technician he then loaded the duffel into the Saturn.
From the deposition:
Q. Why did you feel the need to gather these up?
A. I was concerned that for some time I had been—I was being followed around, and I was afraid that someone would come in and steal my work.
Q. You were afraid they would come in and steal the iRobot memorabilia?
A. No, I referred to the data, the disks. The memorabilia, the reason I gathered that up was, I was angry that—frustrated that iRobot was coming after me at this point when we became competitors in such a big contract….these things were at points given to me and you know, I just didn’t want them anymore.
On Being Followed and A Memory Lapse
In the same deposition, Ahed said that a few weeks before the lawsuit was filed, he began to suspect he was being followed and even considered hiring a bodyguard. For example, he said, he would sometimes come to work in the morning and find strange cars parked in the parking lot. “And then, when I would go into the office that car wouldn’t be there when I looked back, things like that kind of started the nervousness,” he said.
Around midnight on August 17, after the duffel was loaded into the Saturn’s trunk, … Next Page »
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