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Scott Gravelle, CEO of Attabotics Inc., leans on one of his robots at his robotic logistics company based in Calgary, on Aug. 18, 2020.

Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

A Calgary robotics startup backed by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is suing an American rival for patent infringement.

Attabotics Inc., which makes automation equipment for use in warehouses, alleges in a civil complaint filed with the United States District Court in Massachusetts that Boston-based Urbx Inc. infringed on two of its patents, which were issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2020 and 2021.

Attabotics alleges in its claim that Urbx has been “willful, intentional and purposeful, in disregard of and indifferent to Attabotics’ rights” and that Urbx’s continuing infringement “irreparably harms Attabotics.” It 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.

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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.

The company, 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.

Urbx, which incorporated in 2019, sells an automated system that uses robotics to fulfil orders for grocery clients. In its claim, Attabotics states it sent notices of infringement to Urbx in April and May before filing the lawsuit in June. Justice Allison Burroughs has granted Urbx an extension until Sept. 16 to file a reply to the claim.

A spokesperson for Attabotics declined comment.

In a statement Monday, Urbx says it vigorously denies the meritless claims of patent infringement raised in Attabotics’ complaint.  Urbx respects intellectual property, and does not infringe the asserted patents. Urbx will respond to the complaint in due course with a complete defense.

Teachers led a US$50-million investment in Attabotics last year, which was also backed by Honeywell International Inc.

Attabotics raised US$25-million in 2019, led by Catue, Comcast Ventures and Honeywell. Other investors in the robotics firm 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.

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