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Wed, Apr 26, 2023

Texas Jury Finds DJI Guilty of Patent Infringement

DJI to Pay Bell-Textron $279-Million

On 21 April 2023—following U.S. District Judge Alan Albright’s refusal to allow jurors to examine drone models salient to a patent infringement trial pertaining to a particular aerial remote control technology—a Texas federal jury determined Chinese drone powerhouse DJI should pay nearly $279-million to Bell Textron for infringing upon a pair of the latter company’s patents.

According to the trial’s verdict sheet, the Waco jury sided largely with Fort Worth-based Bell Textron, which accused DJI of producing and selling drones comprising "specific improvements to devices and techniques for remote control" protected by patents held by Textron.

Shenzhen DJI Sciences and Technologies Ltd.—more widely known as Da Jiang Innovations, or simply DJI—is a Chinese state-backed designer and manufacturer of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). DJI drones are widely used in the music, television, and film industries. In 2021 DJI models accounted for approximately 76-percent of consumer drone sales.

Amid deliberations, jurors repeatedly petitioned Judge Albright to permit them to examine examples of DJI drones in the courtroom. A dangling participle-ridden note signed by the jury’s foreman read: "Can we see the drone that was used to fly in the courtroom?" The request was denied by Albright, who contended in writing that the drone used in the courtroom had not been officially submitted as evidence.

Undeterred, the jury foreman stated: "We would like to see the large white drone."

Citing the same reason, the judge denied the request a second time, instead providing the jury a specimen of DJI’s Mini 3 Pro drone—insomuch as subject product is among those Textron alleged infringed upon its patents.

After approximately one hour of examining the Mini 3 Pro model, the jury returned with a verdict: DJI owed $30.7-million for infringing one Bell-Textron patent, and $248.2-million for infringing another.

The amount fell short of the damages sought by Textron’s attorneys, which argued the patent case was worth $367-million.

The trial didn’t occasion the first instance in which DJI found itself on the losing side of a patent infringement proceeding. In a 2020 patent suit brought by rival drone-maker Autel, DJI was ruled against by the U.S. International Trade Commission’s chief administrative law judge, who recommended barring DJI’s Mavic Pro, Mavic Pro Platinum, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic Air, and Spark drone models from importation into the United States.

In December 2021, DJI was added to a U.S. Treasury Department blacklist on account of its drones retaining features conducive to espionage. In April 2023, the Florida state legislature enacted a law prohibiting state governmental, police, and similarly-critical infrastructural agencies from utilizing DJI drones.

The Textron patents-in-suit were U.S. Patent numbers 8,014,909 and 9,162,752.

Textron was represented in the case by Arya Moshiri, Boyang Zhang, Lance J. Goodman, Michael Hawes, Emily M. Felvey, Harrison Rich, Kurt Pankratz, Mark A. Speegle, and Morgan G. Mayne of Baker, Botts LLP; Mark D. Siegmund and Melissa S. Ruiz of Cherry, Johnson, Siegmund, James PLLC; and Gregory P. Love of Steckler, Wayne, Cherry, & Love PLLC.

DJI was represented by Benjamin R. Schlesinger, J. Michael Jakes, Jacob Schroeder, Jinwoo Kim, Qingyu Yin, Robert High, Sydney Kestle, and Yanyi Liu of Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett, & Dunner LLP; and Jacqueline P. Altman, John P. Palmer, and John A. Powell of Naman, Howell, Smith & Lee PLLC.

The case is Textron Innovations Inc. v. SZ DJI Technology Co. Ltd. et al., case number 6:21-cv-00740, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

FMI: www.justice.gov, www.dji.com, www.textron.com 

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