Rival eVTOL air taxi developers Archer Aviation and Wisk Aero have reached a settlement in their two-year-long legal dispute over allegations of intellectual property theft. In a surprising turn of events, the two California-based competitors have agreed to collaborate on autonomous flight technology that could one day enable unpiloted, passenger-carrying air taxi operations.
In a call with investors on Thursday, Archer CEO Adam Goldstein said the company intends to produce an autonomous, unpiloted version of its Midnight eVTOL air taxi in the future, and that Wisk—a Boeing subsidiary—will be Archer’s exclusive provider of autonomous flight technology.
“Our collaboration with Boeing and its subsidiary Wisk will be focused on supporting the integration of Western autonomy technology in future variants of our aircraft,” Goldstein said. “This collaboration could bring for Archer the potential to access world-leading autonomy technology while substantially reducing the cost of developing it ourselves.”
While the full terms of the legal settlement have not been made public, according to Archer's financial filings the company is delivering just over 13 million of its shares to Wisk (nominally valued at $73 million). In a letter to shareholders issued Thursday, Archer explained that this consists of “an initial $25 million charge for the portion of warrants that are immediately vested and a $48 million charge for the unvested portion that is subject to certain vesting criteria and may never be realized.” The settlement, explained as part of a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, was announced days before the case was due to be heard in a San Francisco federal court, starting on August 14.
Boeing, Stellantis, United, and ARK Back New $215 Million Funding Round
Boeing, Wisk’s parent company, has also decided to invest an undisclosed amount in Archer. In a statement released Thursday, Archer reported a $215 million funding round with participation from Boeing and several prior investors, including $70 million from Stellantis and undisclosed amounts from United Airlines, ARK Investment Management, and others. The latest funding round brings Archer’s total funding to over $1.1 billion to date. In the shareholder letter, Archer reported having $407.6 million cash in hand.
Wisk vs. Archer
Wisk, which was previously run as a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, has been developing several generations of eVTOL technology demonstrators since 2015, with plans to certify a fully autonomous, four-seat eVTOL air taxi sometime in the next decade. Founded in 2018, Archer has been developing its own four-passenger eVTOL air taxi, but one that has a fifth seat for a pilot. Archer intends to have its piloted aircraft in service by 2025.
In April 2021, Wisk filed a lawsuit against Archer in the U.S. federal court for the Northern District of California, accusing the latter of stealing its trade secrets. The lawsuit alleged that a disgruntled former Wisk employee who left the company to join Archer in January 2020 stole thousands of files containing proprietary and confidential information, including designs for aircraft and their various components and subsystems, as well as manufacturing and test data.
Wisk sought an injunction to stop Archer from using what it claimed was Wisk’s protected intellectual property in the development of its own eVTOL air taxi—specifically, its two-seat technology demonstrator. In June 2021, two months after Wisk filed the lawsuit, Archer unveiled its first eVTOL technology demonstrator: a two-seat aircraft called Maker. Wisk’s own two-seat technology demonstrator, a fifth-generation aircraft called Cora, was revealed in 2018. Last October, Wisk revealed its sixth-generation aircraft, and Archer revealed its full-scale Midnight aircraft just a few weeks later.
Both companies’ designs, including the two-seat technology demonstrators and subsequent full-scale models, feature a fixed wing with tilting propellers that provide both vertical lift and forward propulsion. This type of configuration is not exactly unique among eVTOL aircraft. However, Wisk argued that the design of Archer’s Maker aircraft looked suspiciously similar to the patented design of Wisk’s sixth-generation aircraft, which had not yet been publicly revealed.
Archer rebutted these allegations, claiming that Wisk filed its patent application for the “Gen 6” aircraft in January 2020 only after it had learned of Archer’s tiltrotor design. According to a court filing made by Archer’s legal team, Wisk was made aware of Archer’s design by senior engineer Geoff Long following a recruitment meeting on Dec. 9, 2019.
Not a Federal Case
Following an investigation by the FBI and the Department of Justice, federal prosecutors in February this year decided not to pursue any charges against the employee who allegedly brought Wisk’s trade secrets to Archer. While Archer touted this as a victory at the time, Wisk’s legal team asserted that this criminal investigation was separate from its civil litigation against Archer and that it would not affect the outcome of the case. The case of Wisk v. Archer was scheduled to go to trial on August 14, but now that the parties have settled, there will be no court appearances.
“We are pleased to have reached a mutually agreeable settlement with Archer that resolves our concerns while also eliminating the need for a costly and distracting trial,” a Wisk spokesperson told AIN in an email. “Wisk is committed to working collaboratively within the industry and leading in autonomous passenger flight.”