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iRobot Corporation (IRBT) Drops Another Competitor… for Now

If you ever thought iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT)‘s defense and security bots were the only ones who could put up a fight, think again.

On Friday, the company’s popular Roomba robotic vacuums downed yet another competitor… at least temporarily in the courtroom, anyway.

More specifically, on Friday, iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) announced it had obtained preliminary injunctions through the District Court of Dusseldorf in Germany against Shenzhen Silver Star, the Chinese business behind the competing MyGenie line of “Intelligent Floor Vacuums.” The court, for its part, found three of Shenzhen’s vacuums infringed four separate iRobot patents.

Surprisingly enough, the preliminary injunctions had already been served on Shenzhen Silver Star, as “infringing goods” were seized from the company Friday at Berlin’s 2013 annual IFA consumer electronics show.

Of course, as fellow Fool Rich Smith pointed out, this is only a temporary respite to limit the damage to iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) while the case runs its course, and Shenzhen Silver Star is free to appeal the decision.

But while I’m no patent lawyer, a quick glance at one of the infringing models, the MyGenie XR210, appears to be a near carbon copy of several of iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT)’s most popular vacuums:

MyGenie XR210 robotic vaccuum, Image source: MyGenie.com.sg

But remember, this certainly isn’t iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT)’s first, second, or even third patent rodeo.

In July, the company also initiated legal action in Germany against four separate international companies for violation of five of iRobot’s European patents. As I noted at the time, at least one of the vacuums in that case was just as difficult to tell apart from iRobot’s popular 650 model:

Image sources: iRobot.com, Solac.com

Prior to that, as iRobot’s press release also notes, the company achieved a successful settlement with New Majestic S.p.A. in 2011 after enforcing two of its Roomba patents in Italy.

And the Roomba isn’t the only bot that iRobot’s competition has tried to copy. Way back in 2007, iRobot’s military-centric PackBot had to assert its legal clout to take down competitor Robotic FX, in a borderline-awkward case that involved Robotic FX’s founder — who also happened to be an ex-iRobot employee — digging through iRobot’s trash in an effort to steal trade secrets and build a competing military solution.

Of course, that still doesn’t do much to negate the broader threat from much larger players in the space, like Northrop Grumman, who happens to know a thing or two about truly innovating in the field of robotics while abiding by generally accepted intellectual property rules. In fact, that’s why I heartily agree with Rich Smith, who recently made the argument that iRobot needs to step out of its comfort zone and develop new, better robots to stay ahead of the game.

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