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Robot war breaks out as Roomba maker sues upstart SharkNinja

  • GEORGE F. LEE / 2013
                                An iRobot Roomba.

    GEORGE F. LEE / 2013

    An iRobot Roomba.

The company that unveiled the Roomba robotic vacuum in the early 2000s launched a product last year that takes house cleaning to a new level: It maps your home, schedules sweeps through each room, empties the dust bin itself and even knows where to resume cleaning after has returned to its base for a recharge.

After being recognized by Time magazine for one of 2018’s inventions of the year, iRobot Corp. says it’s no accident that rival SharkNinja Operating LLC came out with a similar device a year later.

“Shark is not even shy about being a copycat,” iRobot said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Boston. The company said “the Shark IQ Robot offers the same iRobot technology at ‘half the price of iRobot i7+’.”

The Roomba i7+ sells for $999.99 on the company’s U.S. website. The Shark IQ Robot is for sale for $449.40 on the company’s website.

IRobot asked a judge to order the SharkNinja product removed from the market “at the earliest possible date” without waiting for a trial.

“While it may have been easy for Shark to rush its copycat product in time for the holiday sales season, it will be impossible for iRobot to recoup its losses” if the case drags out for a year or more, iRobot said in the request.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of an analyst’s downgrade of iRobot last week in a note that emphasized Shark’s aggressive pricing.

SharkNinja, a unit of closely held EP Midco LLC, on Friday filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in federal court in Delaware, asking the judge to declare that the Shark IQ doesn’t infringe six patents cited in iRobot’s complaint, nor five others. SharkNinja denied copying any iRobot technology and said the Shark IQ was the result of its own research and development.

IRobot, founded in 1990 by three engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, has suffered as its domestic sales — which account for about half of total revenue — have gotten caught up in the U.S. trade war with China.

The case is iRobot Corp. v. SharkNinja Operating LLC, 19-cv-12125, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

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