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Ouster sues Hesai for patent infringement

13 Apr 2023

US-based lidar firm requests ban on imports of devices made by its Chinese rival.

Ouster, the San Francisco lidar company that recently acquired Velodyne Lidar, has filed a patent infringement lawsuit seeking to ban US imports of products made by rival supplier Hesai Technology.

Shanghai-headquartered Hesai, which raised $190 million in a Nasdaq listing earlier this year, is accused of infringing five of Ouster’s US patents - with the firm requesting an investigation by the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

Each of those patents names Ouster CEO Angus Pacala as a co-inventor, and was awarded between November 2021 and August 2022.

Ouster’s complaint requests that the ITC issues a limited exclusion order and a cease-and-desist order against Hesai to bar US imports of Hesai's lidar devices, components, and products.

Both of the companies sell digital lidar sensors aimed at automotive and industrial markets. Hesai’s “AT128” sensors are based around 905 nm vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs), and the company is known to have worked with major VCSEL manufacturer Lumentum and the Chinese car firms Changan and SAIC.

Along with the ITC case, Ouster has lodged a patent infringement complaint against Hesai in the US District Court for the District of Delaware, seeking an injunction and monetary damages. Hesai is yet to respond to the lawsuits publicly.

Digital lidar
Outlining the reasoning behind its lawsuits, Ouster stated that it had “invented digital lidar technology following an engineering breakthrough, resulting in a high-resolution sensor with a simplified architecture based on two silicon chips”.

“Ouster’s highly flexible digital platform can be manufactured at scale and unlocks the largest market opportunity with a combination of high-performance and low cost,” added the firm. “As a result, Ouster has quickly become a market leader in lidar.”

In its most recent financial results announcement - the first since Ouster and Velodyne completed their merger - Ouster posted an operating loss of $145 million on annual sales of $41 million in 2022, with the company stressing the need for significant cost-cutting measures.

Ouster says that it holds one of the largest patent families in the lidar industry, reflecting its past investments in both rotating and non-rotating solid-state lidar systems.

“Ouster's complaint sets forth how, after the market shifted toward Ouster’s digital lidar, Hesai stole Ouster’s revolutionary patented technologies and incorporated them into Hesai’s competing products,” it claims.

“We set out to build a lidar company based on a digital approach because we knew that it would make lidar performant, affordable, and ubiquitous. Ouster intentionally built one of the strongest patent portfolios in the industry,” said Pacala.

“As companies attempt to copy our digital approach, we will continue to vigorously enforce our intellectual property until the infringing products are barred.”

Ouster also noted that Velodyne Lidar had previously brought a patent infringement lawsuit against Hesai in 2019, with the Chinese firm said to have settled that complaint with the payment of “millions of dollars upfront and ongoing royalties”.

In July 2020, Velodyne and Hesai issued a joint statement announcing that the two companies had dismissed pending legal proceedings, and entered into a long‑term global cross-licensing relationship encompassing a broad range of 360° surround-view lidar sensors.

• The US patents cited in the latest lawsuit are:

11,175,405: Spinning lidar unit with micro-optics aligned behind stationary window
11,178,381: Optical system for collecting distance information within a field
11,190,750: Optical imaging system with a plurality of sense channels
11,287,515: Rotating compact light ranging system comprising a stator driver circuit imparting an electromagnetic force on a rotor assembly
11,422,236: Optical system for collecting distance information within a field

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