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IRobot wins patent dispute with SharkNinja, sort of

A photo illustration of a SharkNinja robot vacuum and an iRobot robot vacuum cleaning up dirt on a yellow background.Roomba from iRobot; Shark vacuum by Jared Charney for The Boston Globe/Globe staff photo illustration

Bedford-based home robot maker iRobot has won a hard-fought patent battle with archrival SharkNinja of Needham, but it might not matter.

On Tuesday, the US International Trade Commission ruled that SharkNinja had violated an iRobot patent, and barred SharkNinja from importing any products that contained the patented technology, which enables a robotic floor cleaner to navigate the user’s floors and avoid obstacles. But according to SharkNinja, only one of its products, the AI Wet-Dry floor vacuum and mop, violated the patent. and it has since been redesigned so it no longer does.

“As a result, while we disagree with the Commission’s very limited finding of a violation and we are confident it will be overturned on appeal, the exclusion order will have zero impact on SharkNinja’s ability to continue to sell its full line of five-star products,” said an e-mailed statement from a SharkNinja spokesperson.

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In 2021, iRobot filed suit with the commission claiming that SharkNinja had violated five iRobot patents. One of these patents was dropped from the case before trial, and an administrative law judge ruled in favor of iRobot on two patents and against the company on two others. Both companies asked the full commission to review the case, and after deliberating for three months the commission upheld only one of iRobot’s patent claims.

“We are pleased that the International Trade Commission has determined the appropriate remedy is a limited exclusion order against infringing products from SharkNinja,” said iRobot chief executive Colin Angle in an e-mail.

IRobot’s robotic vacuum cleaner Roomba, introduced in 2002, became the first robot to become a successful consumer product. SharkNinja, founded in Canada and now owned by JS Global Lifestyle Company Ltd. of China, entered the robotic vacuum market in 2017 and is now second only to iRobot in worldwide sales.

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Both companies don’t mind using patent lawsuits to fend off competitors.

SharkNinja unsuccessfully sued another company in 2019 over an air fryer that allegedly violated a SharkNinja patent. In 2017, iRobot successfully sued Hoover and Stanley Black & Decker at the trade commission to block some of their products from the US market.

Then in 2019, iRobot filed a patent infringement lawsuit in Boston federal court against SharkNinja. Most of iRobot’s claims were rejected by the court, but the case remains on appeal. IRobot filed a separate case with the trade commission, which has the authority to block products that infringe on US patents from being imported into the country.


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeTechLab.