Patents, photon, and autonomous roaming

Hi again!

A few friends and myself have been working on a “week-end” project using the Photon for the last few months. We are getting close to a functional PCB design (as well as neat urethane molded parts :slight_smile: ). There are a lot of steps still ahead of us prior to have a fully fledged product, but it seems we hit a dead-end with patents…

A small functionality that our product requires is autonomous roaming in a defined space. Essentially, our Photon will be integrated in a small autonomous robot and perform various key functions using a mobile phone. Although we’re not in the vaccum bot/cleaning bot business, a core part of the product is based on obstacle detection using sensors such as IR/ultrasonic/relay switching.

While looking at valid patents and prior art, there seem to be a variety of patents filed by vacuuming robot companies whose main claims relates to obstacle detection & avoidance using ultrasonic/ir sensors. These same claims do not always mention the function of the bot (aka cleaning/vacuuming bot).

Either we’re not interpreting these patent claims properly, or not properly evaluating the implications of such patents, but it seems like the “autonomous roaming” business are rough waters for a startup to start naviguating in, even if we are not in the vacuuming bot/cleaning business.

Would any of you have similar experience with autonomous roaming bots? Is there royalty-free patents we should be aware of at this point? We’re put an halt on the Kickstarter planning phase for now. Hoping we can get some pointers on how to proceed from here on…

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Hi @mivoel

You should talk to a patent attorney and get real advice. There are too many factors to get right in a forum post. Patents can be valid or invalid and enforceable or not enforceable for a variety of reasons that cannot easily be determined. For instance, first off it makes a big difference which country you are in and which country you are planning to sell your product in.

If you want to discover if the patent is enforceable for sure, the patent attorney may suggest getting another independent patent attorney to write up an “opinion”. The opinion attorney will search the prior art in the field (often with the help of hired experts) and search prior patents to craft an opinion document telling you what is and is not covered in the patents in question. With that in hand, you can craft a direction that you want to take your product in.

You have to be careful since talking to your patent attorney is privileged communication and cannot be used against you, but anything you say or give to the opinion writing attorney is not privileged and can be used in court if someone sues you over the patents. There are larger penalties for knowingly infringing on a someone else’s patent and the other side will always try to make you out as a bad actor.

Good luck!


Thanks @bko. This is reassuring advice at this point in time.

We’ve had a preliminary meeting with a patent attorney. Since we’re still gathering information on prior art/patents we’re definitely looking for some pointers that would make sure we would follow the proper process and prevent us from going too far in the dev process with something we couldn’t bring to market.

Based on your post it seems we’re still on the right track at this point. If we can clear out these hurdles we’ll definitely keep the community posted on what we’re up to :smile:

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