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Velodyne, Quanergy clash over lidar patent ruling

06 Jun 2019

Quanergy to appeal decision by US Patent Trial and Appeals Board supporting Velodyne patent covering autonomous vehicle and machine vision applications.

Velodyne Lidar and Quanergy Systems, two Silicon Valley companies at the forefront of the fast-growing lidar industry, have clashed over a decision by the US Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) favoring Velodyne.

Following a challenge brought by Sunnyvale-based Quanergy, the PTAB’s May 23 decision upheld the patentability of all the claims covered in Velodyne’s US patent 7,969,558.

Entitled “high-definition lidar system” and assigned to the San Jose firm’s founder and CEO David Hall, it describes a three-dimensional point-cloud measuring system and rotary component.

Drawings accompanying the ‘558 patent, filed by Hall back in 2006, show the lidar system detailed perched on the top of a truck, similar to the “upturned bucket” lidar systems often seen in early incarnations of self-driving vehicles.

Enforcement options
Velodyne’s president, Marta Hall, said in response to the PTAB’s decision: “The ruling was not a surprise, because real-time surround view lidar was invented by our founder, David Hall, and the company holds a number of foundational patents relative to this technology.

“We are an invention-based company and will always be inventing and innovating technologies, so we take protecting our hard-earned intellectual property seriously. In response to the ruling, we’ll be evaluating our enforcement options moving forward.”

Unsurprisingly, Quanergy has since hit back. It now plans to appeal the PTAB decision, and says it is “considering enforcement options” of its own intellectual property against Velodyne.

“The PTAB’s statement that Velodyne’s ‘claimed invention is more likely than not the result of innovative steps rather than obvious ones’ flies in the face of objective evidence based on prior art that was presented to the PTAB according to Quanergy,” responded Quanergy in a statement released June 5.

Obviousness
The company goes on to suggest that the patent in question protects a device and a process that is “obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the art” – legal jargon that is equivalent to saying that the patent should not have been granted in the first place.

“Spinning electromagnetic sensors with emitters and receivers have been around for decades,” Quanergy added. “Quanergy provided the PTAB with prior art sufficient to invalidate the relevant claims of the ‘558 patent. Quanergy believes the PTAB ruling will be overturned on appeal.”

The Sunnyvale firm, which is backed by car parts giant Delphi and Samsung Ventures, among others, says it will now consider asserting one or more of its patents against Velodyne.

“Prior to seeing Quanergy’s innovative design, Velodyne’s lidars all included a spinning external housing that included the optical components, such as the HDL-64E and HDL-32E models,” it says, adding claims that these particular lidar designs proved unreliable - and that Velodyne instead ended up adopting Quanergy’s own approach.

“The main design change that allowed Velodyne to switch from its original design and make a significantly more reliable and manufacturing-worthy puck-type product line came about through implementation of Quanergy’s intellectual property,” said the firm.

Damages sought
Quanergy’s CEO and founder Louay Eldada said in a company release: “We will not rest until our intellectual property based on decades of innovation and hard work is respected, and we receive the financial damages resulting from any infringement. We have seven issued patents that we intend to use to examine all lidar competitors’ products and protect our intellectual rights.”

Both companies have attracted serious investment over the past few years, as the automotive sector looks to establish reliable supplies of the sensor technologies needed for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and future autonomous vehicles.

Back in 2016, Quanergy closed a $90 million venture round just a week after Velodyne said it had raised $150 million from a consortium including Ford and Baidu.

While Quanergy has worked with the likes of Mercedes and Volvo, Velodyne claims to be the highest-volume supplier of lidar sensors to the automotive industry, with “more than 250 customers” globally.

Outside of the automotive sector, the sensors also feature in a variety of rapidly growing applications, including machine vision, unmanned aerial vehicles, security, precision agriculture, and gaming.

The Velodyne-Quanergy dispute comes after a similar battle between Waymo and Uber. In early 2018 Uber, which had been accused by Waymo of stealing trade secrets, agreed to pay a reported $245 million to settle the case out of court.

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