Urban air mobility aircraft developer Archer Aviation has asked a court to deny competitor Wisk’s request for a preliminary injunction in an increasingly acrimonious legal battle about the alleged theft of proprietary information.
It is the latest volley in a high-stakes conflict in which both companies stand to make millions in the futuristic electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) market.
The companies are locked in legal squabbling after Mountain View, California-headquartered Wisk sued Archer in April, claiming a rogue engineer stole trade secrets before he joined Archer. Archer responded with a lawsuit of its own in June, saying Wisk’s claims were “without merit” and “baseless”.
The companies are building eVTOLs that look strikingly similar.
In the new filing, dated 23 June, Palo Alto-based Archer says Wisk applied for a patent on its eVTOL design shortly after Archer had privately shared its design with a Wisk executive.
”Wisk’s chief engineer learned of Archer’s aircraft design during an Archer recruiting meeting in December 2019, shared that information with senior executives at Wisk, and then weeks later, Wisk filed a patent application for an aircraft design which appears nearly identical to the one described to him by Archer executives,” Archer says.
“Wisk fundamentally misrepresents the ‘facts’ on which it urges this court to infer misappropriation, starting with its central allegation that the similarity between Archer’s aircraft and a design in Wisk’s patent application ‘could not have been a coincidence’, and shows that Archer ‘ripped off wholesale’ Wisk’s design,” Archer writes.
“Wisk’s claim that its [patent] application was filed before Archer ‘revealed’ its design is a sleight of hand,” Archer continues. “That is because Wisk knows — but does not tell the court — that Wisk’s application was filed after Archer developed its design. In fact, Wisk’s application was filed after Archer disclosed its design to Wisk.”
In its original suit, Wisk claimed Archer was using its “proprietary information” and trade secrets, allowing Archer to more quickly advance its design for an viable eVTOL aircraft.
Archer, in turn, countersued Wisk in June and asked a federal judge to throw out Wisk’s suit, calling it “entirely baseless”.
Wisk’s 12-prop, two-passenger in-development aircraft, called Cora, has 22nm (40km) range and can reach speeds of about 86kt (155 km/h), says Wisk’s website. Wisk this year intends to begin a trial programme in New Zealand through which it eventually aims to conduct passenger eVTOL flights.
Archer publicly revealed its aircraft, which it calls “Maker”, during a slick marketing event in Los Angeles earlier this month. Like Cora, that aircraft also has 12 wing-mounted rotors – six on the leading edge, which appear to be tiltable, and six on the trailing edge. Maker will have four seats, top speed of 126kt and range of 52nm, Archer said. The company hopes to have it certificated by 2024.
In February, Chicago-based United Airlines said it intends to buy up to 200 of Archer’s urban air mobility aircraft. At the time, United said it will acquire the aircraft once they are in operation and have met its “operating and business requirements”.
United’s orders have an aggregate purchase price of $1 billion, and the airline has taken options for another $500 million in orders, according to securities filings.