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John Powell recently sat down with Information Week to discuss the future of robotics and the importance of investing in patent portfolios.

More Robots Are Coming, But Where Are They Going?

The manufacturing sector has long used robotic automation to reduce costs, improve safety, and increase throughput. Other industries are following suit.

- Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer | May 28, 2024

Robots have been around for decades, but they’re becoming a lot more interesting now given technological advances and the expanding use cases. For example, robotic arms have been used in manufacturing for tasks that require repeatable precision, such as painting, pick and place operations, and welding, but now, various types of robots are finding their way into other industries such as agriculture, ecommerce, and logistics.


There are also legal challenges. One thing robotics companies are doing is investing in patent portfolios to protect their tech investments, such as to prevent copying, according to John Powell, partner and patent chair at law firm Sunstein LLP. They’re also building patent portfolios in the event they need to use them defensively if a competitor asserts a patent against them. By having their own patent(s) to assert against the competitor, the company may be able to force a cross-licensing arrangement, thereby allowing both companies to continue to do business.

In addition, robotics companies are monitoring other companies in their space to stay current on competitive patent filings and understand patent risks. In some cases, with less significant inventions, instead of filing for patent protection, organizations may choose to publish a tech paper describing the invention to create prior art and prevent a competitor from later patenting the invention. These so called “defensive publications” may be reported in more obscure publications to reduce the risk of alerting competitors, but still achieve the effect of creating prior art.

Interestingly, organizations that purchase robotics solutions can also be sued for patent infringement for use of the solutions. “When you purchase a robotics solution, you want to understand the potential for patent litigation for your use of the solution purchased from a vendor,” says Powell. “When negotiating the vendor contract, you need to make sure you have adequate indemnification from the vendor for a patent infringement claim by a third party. When such a claim is made, the company should notify the vendor, so the vendor can defend and indemnify the company against the claim of infringement, as required in the contract.”

Read the full Information Week article

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