Chinese drone manufacturer Yuneec wowed audiences at the International CES in 2015 with the debut of its Yuneec Typhoon H, a $1,300 drone that can detect objects in its proximity to prevent collisions and track subjects.
And rival Chinese company DJI, the world’s largest drone maker known for its iconic white ‘Phantom’ drones, is not having it.
DJI on Friday filed a patent infringement lawsuit in federal court against Yuneec International Co. Ltd. and Yuneec USA, Inc., saying its drones infringe on two DJI patents, including one for target tracking.
The DJI Phantom 4, which hit shelves in March, calls this feature “Active Track,” allowing the drone to follow a subject, selected by tapping that subject on their smartphone screen. Even if the subject moves, the drone will follow it, keeping it in the center of the camera’s frame.
The Yuneec Typhoon H markets its similar feature as “Watch Me,” which allows the drone to follow you while always pointing the camera at you.
“DJI welcomes competition, but is committed to protecting its intellectual property,” DJI spokesman Adam Lisberg said. “Friday’s filing is a response to safeguard that investment, to protect customers and partners and to promote genuine innovation in this promising area.”
Yuneec did not immediately provide comment on the suit.
The other patent at issue involves a mount typically used for a camera.
DJI, which employs over 700 engineers, says it holds hundreds of patents world-wide, including 30 in the United States.
“Since its founding, DJI has invested millions of dollars in research to develop industry leading technology,” according to the complaint documentation filed by DJI.
DJI is estimated to have a market share of about 70% in drones, but Yuneec is the drone industry’s dark horse, quickly rising up the ranks in popularity while raising funding from Intel Corp.
Another consumer drone company, California-based 3D Robotics, in Marchannounced job cuts and a refocus on the corporate market. The company, which makes the ‘Solo’ drone, is led by former editor in chief of Wired Chris Anderson and had raised $99 million in four funding rounds from investors including Qualcomm Inc. Ventures.
“We made too many Solos, especially given how fast our competitors dropped prices and flooded the market,” 3D Robotics Chief Product Officer Jeevan Kalanithi wrote in a letter to staff obtained by MarketWatch.
The lawsuit between DJI and Yuneec marks the first major legal battle in the drone industry, but it is already drawing parallels to a drawn-out battle between smartphone makers Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. The top smartphone manufacturers in the world have been in a protracted legal struggle world-wide, including two closely watched courtroom battles in the U.S.