Phone-controlled drones cause dogfight in court

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A Taiwanese company sued a Michigan-based rival late Friday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, claiming that its patents behind phone-controlled drones were being infringed.

At issue, according to the lawsuit by Drone Technologies Inc. against Parrot Inc., is technology that allows the magnetometers and accelerometers in smartphones or tablets to translate the movements of those devices into the movements of the drone. Tilt the phone to the right, and the drone will fly that way.

Parrot's "toy drones," according to the lawsuit, can be controlled by any Android or Apple device with the Parrot FreeFlight app.

Drone Technologies, though, holds two patents for remote control systems -- one from 2009 and the other from 2012, and both listing a Taipei man as inventor -- that use magnetometers and accelerometers to control remote devices.

According to the lawsuit, Parrot was told in late 2012 that it was infringing on the patents, and in March 2013 Apple removed FreeFlight from its app store.

Parrot then rewrote the apps so that the phones' magnetometers and accelerometers were not used, but when customers complained that they didn't work, that change was reversed, according to the complaint.

Drone Technologies wants a court order enjoining Parrot from using its technology, plus treble compensatory damages for infringement.

A Parrot spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit is in Pittsburgh because its federal court has, since 2011, been a site for a pilot program seeking to foster, in certain districts, expertise in patent litigation.


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord.

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