Ocado faces second AutoStore lawsuit in UK

LONDON (Reuters) - British online supermarket and technology group Ocado was hit on Monday with a second legal claim over patents by Norwegian robotics company AutoStore.

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While in last month’s lawsuit AutoStore alleged Ocado infringed patents, its latest action seeks to confirm that it is the inventor and rightful owner of certain patents that have been filed by Ocado.

AutoStore said the action was filed at the UK’s Intellectual Property Office, which it said was standard procedure before transfer to the High Court of England & Wales.

Ocado dismissed the claim and said it would fight it.

The company has only a 1.8% share of Britain’s grocery market. However, its state-of-the-art technology for robotically operated warehouses has spawned partnership deals with supermarket chains around the world, underpinning a stock market valuation of over 19 billion pounds ($25 billion).

AutoStore said its new claim concerned patents filed by Ocado since June 2014 relating to the methods, systems and apparatus for controlling the movement of robots in systems such as the Ocado Smart Platform (OSP).

AutoStore said Ocado filed patents covering technologies that were invented by AutoStore and claimed numerous Ocado executives as “inventors,” including Chief Executive Tim Steiner.

“Ocado took advantage of being our customer and having access to AutoStore’s market-leading technology and then attempted to assert ownership over what it had learned from AutoStore by filing its own patents,” said AutoStore CEO, Karl Johan Lier.

Ocado said AutoStore’s claim had no merit.

“Any suggestion that we have taken their IP (intellectual property) is absurd,” Ocado said in a statement.

“These inventions are ours and we will continue to defend our intellectual property by whatever means necessary.”

Shares in Ocado, up 74% so far this year, were down 14% at 1505 GMT, also hit by Pfizer saying its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective. A successful vaccine could curtail a recent boom in online grocery shopping.

($1 = 0.7595 pounds)

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Mark Potter