Boston Dynamics sues rival robot dog maker over alleged copyright infringement

In what could descend into a battle between robotic canines, Boston Dynamics is suing rival robot maker Ghost Robotics over allegations that it infringed on seven patents relating to its Spot quadruped.

In its complaint, filed in Delaware federal court, Boston Dynamics claims Ghost Robotics’ Vision 60 and Spirit 40, which dog-like robots, infringe on the Hyundai-owned company’s patents.

Boston Dynamics included pictures taken by Airman 1st Class Anabel Del Valle in the filing that show tests conducted by the US Air Force using Ghost Robotics’ quadrupeds at Nellis air base in Nevada. The company says Vision 60 and Spirit 40 infringe on patents covering how the robots negotiate stairs, their walking gait, and their balance, among other things.

Boston Dynamics says it requested that Ghost Robotics review Spot-related patents in July 2020 and followed up with two cease-and-desist letters asking it to stop marketing the rival robots.

“Defendant has deliberately continued to infringe in a wanton, malicious, and egregious manner, with reckless disregard for Boston Dynamics’ patent rights,” said Boston Dynamics, which is seeking infringement damages and pre- and post-judgment interest.

Ghost Robotics made plenty of headlines a year ago when it partnered with the not-evil-at-all-sounding SWORD international to add a Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle (SPUR) to one of the robot dogs.

In February, the United States Department of Homeland Security released details of the Science and Technology Directorate-led Automated Ground Surveillance Vehicles (AGSV) initiative. It involved Ghost Robotics’ machines being trialed as sentries in areas across the southern border, which can be inhospitable for humans due to its harsh landscape, extreme temperatures, and other threats—though these particular metal animals weren’t carrying rifles.

Boston Dynamics, founded in 1992 by former MIT professor Marc Raibert, was acquired by Google in 2013. It was sold to Softbank in 2017 before Hyundai Motoring Group paid $880 million for the firm in 2020. Unlike Ghost Robotics, the company has promoted its machines’ more consumer/business-friendly applications, such as warehouse workers, and was one of the robot makers that recently warned against its products being used as weapons.