A federal jury in Waco, Texas, ruled last month that DJI, a Chinese drone manufacturer, should compensate Textron $279 million for violating two patents of the US-based company.
The two patents include the "remote tracking control technology" filed by Textron in 2004 and granted in 2011, and the "automatic aircraft hover control technology" it applied for in 2011 and got approval for in 2015.
Reportedly, Textron contacted DJI in 2019 intending to sell its relevant patents, but DJI believed that it had long conducted its own research and development in these technologies. In 2021, Textron sued DJI in the United States, seeking $367 million in damages.
Following the verdict, DJI issued a statement saying that its products do not use Textron's technology, also pointing out that Textron manufactures military helicopters while it manufactures civilian drones.
The technologies the two companies employ are fundamentally different. Take hover technology as an example. According to experts, Textron's hover technology requires the pilot's involvement in order to control the aircraft through mechanical and hydraulic systems, while the automatic hover function of the DJI drone operates through remote control in someone's hand. As the global leader in civilian drones, DJI holds more than 8,000 patents worldwide. Insiders say, just because there is no company in the US that can sue DJI for civilian drones, the US has had to turn to a military aircraft technology company like Textron.
From the perspective of timing, Textron's patent claim doesn't hold water. Textron applied for the "automatic hover control" patent on July 14, 2011, and it was approved on October 19, 2011, but DJI publicly used such hover control technology in its XP3.1 fly-control system in 2009, two years before Textron filed its patent application. It is unreasonable for a later patent applicant to seek compensation from a company that had used the technology earlier.
The underlying reasons why Textron sued DJI remain unclear, but Western countries always like to set a "patent trap" for emerging economies in a bid to obstruct and exclude competitors and obtain improper economic benefits. At the same time, Textron has taken advantage of the current anti-China sentiment in the US to cast dirty water on DJI and influence the jury's ruling in its favor.