Farmers Edge looks to appeal U.S. court decision dismissing claims against Farmobile

Manitoba-based Farmers Edge says it believes there are grounds for an appeal after a U.S. court dismissed the company’s claims in a trade secrets-related lawsuit against Kansas-based Farmobile last week.

A U.S. District Court judge in Nebraska issued a summary judgment on Thursday in the legal dispute over who owns the right to technology used for gathering farm machinery data.

Farmers Edge filed the lawsuit against Farmobile in the spring of 2016, alleging the co-founders of Farmobile broke intellectual property rules. The case is related to the technology used in Farmers Edge’s CanPlug — a device that plugs into the ISOBUS port on farm equipment to track and transmit operating information. Farmobile also sells a device that collects and shares machinery data, called the Farmobile PUC.

Farmobile was formed in 2013 by three former employees of a company called Crop Ventures, which developed the CanPlug. Crop Ventures was acquired by Farmers Edge in 2014 (and the company’s founder, Ron Osborne, now serves as the chief strategy officer for Farmers Edge).

Farmers Edge alleged that Farmobile co-founders Jason Tatge and Heath Gerlock “breached their obligations to their former employer, Crop Ventures, and unlawfully exploited trade secrets to form their own competing company, Farmobile.”

The summary judgment issued by U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon on Thursday dismissed Farmers Edge’s claims, including a request that Farmers Edge be deemed the owner of Farmobile’s Canadian patent and its U.S. patent application, according to a news release from Farmobile.

“The court finds FEI (Farmers Edge Inc.) has not sustained its burden to show that it is entitled to the requested damages or equitable relief in the form of assignment of Farmobile’s patent rights,” wrote Bataillon.

“We welcome the court’s decision. Truth won out and justice was served,” said Jason Tatge, CEO and co-founder of Farmobile, in the news release. “Farmobile takes great pride in the development of its technology and respects the intellectual property rights of others. This judgment vindicates our strategy of innovation over litigation. The U.S. District Court of Nebraska could find no facts to back the claims made by Farmers Edge.”

A trial for several counterclaims filed by Farmobile in the U.S. District Court is scheduled to begin on May 21.

Responding to the summary judgment on Tuesday, Farmers Edge said it “believes there are grounds for appeal and will proceed with further action once the counterclaims have been dispensed with.”

“This is about much more than patents or money. This is about values,” said Wade Barnes, president and CEO of Farmers Edge, in a statement. “My vision has always been to build an innovative company that develops tools to let growers experience the value of their farm data. We pour our hearts into every innovation we bring to market and we plan to continue to defend our rights regarding intellectual property to protect what we’ve built.”

Farmers Edge also referred to “prior art” in its response — “prior art” is a term used to describe evidence that an invention is already known, and not valid for a patent.

“It was made clear during the proceedings that Farmobile chose to abandon their U.S. patent application due to prior art, which puts into question the validity of any Farmobile patent related to this matter,” said Farmers Edge.

There’s litigation pending over the machinery tracking technology in Canada, as well. Farmobile filed a patent infringement case against Farmers Edge in the Federal Court of Canada in March 2017.

 

Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin

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