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Scott Gravelle is CEO of Attabotics Inc., a robotic logistics company based in Calgary. Photo taken Aug. 18, 2020.Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

A Boston robotics company is asking a U.S. court to throw out a patent infringement lawsuit by Calgary’s Attabotics Inc., saying its rival’s claims have no merit.

Both startups make automation equipment used to fulfill e-commerce orders in product warehouses, “but that is where the similarity ends,” Urbx Inc. says in a document filed this week with the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.

Attabotics accused Urbx in a civil complaint filed with the court earlier this year of infringing on two of its patents, which were issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2020 and 2021.

The Calgary company’s technology is intended to help condense traditional warehouses into high-density, vertical storage structures that can be scaled and expanded. Instead of moving goods from aisle to aisle, Attabotics robots move up and down vertical structures, grabbing goods with extendable arms from inside the structures. The design is inspired by ant colonies. The robots bring the goods back to warehouse workers, who prepare them for packing and shipping.

But Urbx argued in its claim that while Attabotics’ patent-protected system requires a fleet of identical vehicles that can travel in three dimensions, Urbx uses two distinct types of robots that co-operate and retrieve and deliver items, a point Attabotics noted in its claim. This makes them “fundamentally different solutions, not equivalents,” Urbx states in its claim, saying Attabotics’ lawsuit is attempting to expand its patents beyond their scope.

“By admitting this fundamental distinction, Attabotics has pleaded itself out of court, and its infringement claims must be dismissed.”

A spokesman for Attabotics said in an e-mail the company “is not able to provide any additional comments at this time.”

Attabotics is seeking a permanent injunction against Urbx infringing its two patents, or, failing that, the awarding of compulsory royalties – as well as damages, legal fees and interest.

Attabotics, founded in 2015 by chief executive officer Scott Gravelle and three others, has six live installations in North America and counts U.S. retail giant Nordstrom Inc. as a customer. Its two patents cover the company’s storage and retrieval machines, as well as the vertical structures.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan led a US$50-million investment in Attabotics last year, which was also backed by Honeywell International Inc. The robotic logistics company also raised US$25-million in 2019, led by Coatue, Comcast Ventures and Honeywell International Inc. Other investors include Forerunner Ventures and Werklund Growth Fund. Attabotics also received a $34-million funding commitment from the federal government’s Strategic Innovation Fund in December, 2020.

Urbx, which incorporated in 2019, sells an automated system that uses robotics to fulfill orders for grocery clients.

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