Archer Aviation today asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it by rival eVTOL aircraft developer Wisk Aero for alleged theft of trade secrets and patent infringement. Archer’s lawyers argue that the suit is “entirely baseless.”
As part of the company’s formal answer to the case filed against it in early April, Archer firmly refutes Wisk’s allegations and insists that it was working on the design before any former Wisk employees joined the company. Wisk has alleged that a former employee, Jing Xue, stole thousands of files containing trade secrets before leaving to join Archer in January 2020.
In filings ahead of the anticipated July 7 start date for the trial in San Francisco, Archer’s legal team also has filed counterclaims against Wisk for “tortious interference and unfair competition." The company alleges that Wisk “made false and unsupported public statements outside of the litigation designed to harm Archer, a successful competitor.”
One of the main bits of fresh information in Archer’s answer to the court is that it has been developing its four-passenger eVTOL aircraft independently, working with FlightHouse Engineering, which it described as “a leading eVTOL design consultant,” since September 2019. Most of the 20 or so former Wisk employees joined Archer in January 2020, five months before the California-based start-up announced its plans in May 2020.
FlightHouse Engineering is based in Portland, Oregon, and has previously worked on eVTOL aircraft projects including Airbus's Vahana technology demonstrator. It also is involved in the development of unmanned air systems.
Archer’s court filing includes several examples of FlightHouse’s drawings and analysis that the company said support its arguments that the design was not based on Wisk’s patented “sixth-generation” eVTOL design. Archer described its design as “12 tilt 6” and said, “There is nothing secret about using 12 rotors on a fixed-wing, tilting rotors, or a V tail.” In its lawsuit filing, Wisk included drawings of its eVTOL design, arguing that it formed the basis for Archer’s program.
“This lawsuit was filed by Wisk for an obvious and impermissible purpose, to impede the success of, and investment in, Archer and its state-of-the-art aircraft design,” concluded the company in a media statement today. “This case has nothing to do with the design of Archer’s aircraft, and everything to do with the success of Archer’s business–and the failure of Wisk’s. Wisk and its predecessors have suffered from years of disorganization and failed design, as well as employee defections, and Wisk is now improperly attempting to weaponize the legal system to achieve through bad faith litigation what it cannot accomplish through fair competition.”
Wisk was formed as a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing in December 2018. California-based Kitty Hawk was founded in March 2010, with backing from Google co-founder Larry Page and Sebastian Thrun, the former head of Google’s autonomous mobility division.
When Boeing last year announced it would close its Boeing NeXt advanced technology unit, industry observers wondered whether the aerospace group might pull its support from Wisk. However, according to the company, Boeing remains committed to the joint venture.
For much of its 11-year history, Kitty Hawk/Wisk has been publicly focused on its two-seat, fully autonomous Cora eVTOL aircraft. However, the lawsuit against Archer confirmed rumors that it has been secretly working on a larger five-seat aircraft with apparently similar projected performance to Archer’s design. Separately, Kitty Hawk is still developing another eVTOL design called Heaviside, having abandoned earlier plans for a personal air vehicle called Flyer.
Wisk refuted Archer's rebuttal that its allegations of trade secret theft are unfounded and lacking in specific detail. The company said it would proceed with the lawsuit.
"Archer's filing confirms the strength of Wisk's claims, and changes nothing about the case–it contains no substantive response to the allegations Archer misappropriated more than 50 specific Wisk trade secrets, which were disclosed in a court filing last month and cover multiple components, systems and designs for the aircraft," a Wisk spokesperson responded. Tellingly, Archer cannot deny that thousands of files were stolen from Wisk by current Archer employees, which contain confidential information especially relevant to the design Archer has touted. And Archer's filing has no plausible explanation for its development timeline."