Two prominent unmanned ground vehicle, or UGV, suppliers to the U.S. military have traded charges of foreign influence and defamation.
Robo-Team NA Inc. has filed a complaint against Endeavor Robotics claiming that Endeavor defamed it while lobbying the U.S. Congress.
Robo-Team alleges that its competitor’s representatives raised concerns that Robo-Team has raised millions of dollars from Chinese investors. Endeavor’s representatives have said that such fund-raising was a matter of public record and that its communications with legislators are protected as free speech under the First Amendment.
UGV leaders in legal dispute
Robo-Team has headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., and Tel Aviv, Israel. The UGV maker was recently named a “Best Employer for Veterans” by Military Times. In March, Tech Crunch reported that Robo-Team had raised money from foreign investors for development of home robots. However, a company representative told Robotics Business Review that Roboteam Home, a legally separate entity, received that funding from a Singapore-based investment group, not a Chinese one.
Chelmsford, Mass.-based Endeavor Robotics was spun out of iRobot Corp. in 2016 and produces UGVs and a variety of robots for surveillance, law enforcement, and defense applications. Last fall, it teamed up with defense contractor Leidos Inc. for the U.S. Navy Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic System Increment 2 and 3 Program.
Paul Werner, a partner at Los Angeles-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, is the lead litigator for Endeavor Robotics. He filed a motion to dismiss the complaint last week with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Werner answered the following questions from Robotics Business Review:
When would Endeavor Robotics know if its motion to dismiss is successful?
The briefing cycle on Endeavor’s motion to dismiss will be closed in another month or so, with an oral argument on the motion likely to follow. The court does not have to rule within any set time. While it is difficult to predict exactly when the court may rule, we would expect a ruling on the motion within a few months.
If Robo-Team’s investment from foreign sources are public record, how could Endeavor have defamed it?
That is our point. Robo-Team cannot pursue any legitimate claim for defamation. Not only is this allegedly “defamatory” information public, it is true. Robo-Team’s lawsuit is nothing more than a PR stunt to deflect from the true facts.
Does Endeavor Robotics consider Robo-Team a direct UGV competitor?
Robo-Team alleges that the two are competing for government contracts.
Does Endeavor have contacts with Congress that don’t count as lobbying?
What is at issue in Robo-Team’s lawsuit is alleged legitimate legislative activities and communications.
Foreign influence is a particular concern for political and national security reasons. Has Endeavor encountered similar pressures before?
This is not at issue in the litigation. The litigation is about Robo-Team’s efforts to chill legitimate lobbying and communications about the national security concerns raised by its Chinese backing.
Editor’s Note: Robo-Team did not respond to an initial request for comment as of the time of this post.
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