On August 2, 2022, Scientific Applications & Research Associates (SARA), Inc. filed a Complaint against Zipline International, Inc. in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California for patent infringement, trade secret misappropriation, and unfair competition, stemming from Zipline’s misappropriation and use of SARA’s proprietary acoustic “detect and avoid” (DAA) technology for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s).
SARA developed a first-of-its-kind acoustic collision avoidance technology for UAV’s and filed for patent protection on October 17, 2007. U.S. Patent No. 7,606,115, entitled “Acoustic Airspace Collision Detection System”, issued on October 20, 2009. Since then, SARA has continued to enhance its acoustic DAA technology, demonstrating superior performance and scalability, and has partnered with major players in the UAV industry.
According to the complaint, "Since at least April 2020, Zipline has been manufacturing, using, selling, offering to sell, and/or licensing UAV’s featuring Acoustic DAA systems which infringe one or more claims of SARA’s ’115 patent. Additionally, successful implementation of SARA’s Acoustic DAA technology into Zipline’s UAV’s requires the unauthorized use of SARA’s proprietary technology, trade secrets, and know-how. On information and belief, Zipline has thus misappropriated and is using SARA’s trade secrets in violation of California and federal trade secret laws, and in breach of the Confidential Non-Disclosure Agreement executed by the parties."
Zipline’s announcement, on June 7, 2022, that it had developed an acoustic DAA system comes on the heels of its recent announcements of a partnership with Walmart for deployment of home delivery drone services and of having raised $250 Million of new funding at a valuation of $2.75 Billion.
The complaint lays out a timeline of the relationship between SARA and Zipline: "In 2017, Zipline entered into discussions with SARA related to incorporating SARA’s acoustic DAA technology into Zipline’s delivery UAV’s. As part of these discussions, the parties entered into a Confidential Non-Disclosure Agreement. That Agreement included a description of the proprietary information to be shared by the parties indicating that SARA would be sharing information related to its acoustic sense and avoid technology for UAV’s. During 2017 and early 2018, the companies’ ongoing discussions led to negotiation of a term sheet describing the proposed details of their partnership. As part of these discussions, Zipline was made aware of SARA’s ’115 patent and its Acoustic DAA technology. Zipline also obtained confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information about SARA’s products and technology, subject to the Confidential Non-Disclosure Agreement between the parties. In 2018, Zipline ceased communications with SARA relating to this potential partnership."
"SARA’s development of acoustic DAA technology was an essential breakthrough that allows UAV’s to safely operate in support of commercial applications, including delivery, in compliance with FAA regulations," said Dr. Parviz Parhami, CEO of SARA. "The lawsuit filed by SARA represents SARA’s commitment to steadfast protection of its intellectual property, and protects the hard work and innovation of its world class team of engineers."
Scientific Applications & Research Associates (SARA), Inc. v. Zipline International, Inc., No. 3:22-cv-4480 (N.D. Cal.)
SARA is being represented by Maynard Cooper & Gale LLP.
To read more about SARA’s airborne DAA solution, see: https://sara.com/threat/air-based-DAA-solutions.