iRobot's war on robot vacuums claims its first victim

The war of the robot vacuums has claimed a new victim. iRobot has reached an agreement with Black & Decker, the two companies coming to legal blows over allegedly patent-infringing 'bots. iRobot, which makes the Roomba, filed against nine different manufacturers of rival home cleaning robots back in April 2017.

At the time, it argued that each of the nine companies infringed on one or more of six key patents iRobot holds. Some cover a variety of common robot vacuum behaviors, like using spiraling patterns to clean an area thoroughly, or using bump sensors to redirect a robot that meets an obstacle. Others, meanwhile, focus on broader robot vacuum ideas, such as how brushes, motors, sensors, and a centralized controller all interact.

Black & Decker – along with Hoover – was arguably the most well-known brand name involved in the suits, certainly for the US market. It currently offers a couple of robo-vac models, with features like smartphone remote control and extra-wide sweeper brushes. Now, the company has come to an agreement with iRobot, that will see it discontinue sales of its robotic vacuum cleaners, albeit with a few provisos.

For example, Black & Decker will be permitted to sell through its existing robot inventory before ceasing sales. It's unclear how many the company has in its warehouses, though it might mean there are some bargains to be had in the weeks ahead. It's also unclear for how long Black & Decker will hold off from the segment: the agreement says it will las "for a certain period of time," but doesn't go into any further detail.

"iRobot believes in the strength of its patents, and the agreement by Black & Decker to discontinue sales of any home robotic vacuums for a certain period of time signifies, yet again, the value of iRobot's intellectual property," Glen Weinstein, executive vice president and chief legal officer at iRobot, said of the deal.

Black & Decker's concessions see it removed from the iRobot US International Trade Commission (ITC) complaint. However, that's still going forward with the other companies named: Bissell, Hoover, Royal Appliance Manufacturing Co., bObsweep, Shenzhen ZhiYi Technology Co., Matsutek Enterprises Co., Suzhou Real Power Electric Appliance Co., and Shenzhen Silver Star Intelligent Technology Co. iRobot says it expects the evidentiary hearing at the ITC to take place in March 2018, though it's likely others in the suit will take this latest development as a hint that it might be worth negotiating before then.