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Battle Beneath The Skies: Who Invented Drone Landing Stations?
Valqari's new patent heats up duel with Arrive
Imagine a world where drone delivery has taken off at scale: quadcopters fill the skies, moving everything from food orders to Amazon packages. But where do those deliveries get dropped off? Sure, if you have a spacious backyard maybe they can leave their payloads back there, but most users would need a more secure and accessible place to retrieve their drone-delivered goods.
That’s the problem that both Valqari and Arrive (formerly Dronedek) are attempting to solve, but the real question is “who invented the solution first?” As Dronedek CEO Dan O’Toole told this publication back in January 2022, “[There is] probably some litigation off in the future,” and it looks like that day may be drawing nearer.
New Patent Heats Battle
A landing pad receives and stores packages delivered from an aerial vehicle and awaiting pickup from an aerial vehicle. The landing pad can be placed outside of a window and can contain a transmitter for sending out an identification signal via radio frequency to aid aerial vehicles in finding the landing pad. The landing pad contains a landing platform with a trapdoor that leads to a storage compartment. The trapdoor can be configured to only open when it receives a signal from an authorized aerial vehicle. The storage compartment can be accessed via a storage compartment door which can contain a locking mechanism. The storage compartment can be climate controlled. The landing pad can also have a transmitter that emits sounds to discourage animals from nesting on or near the landing pad. The landing pad can also include a solar power generator as a source of electrical energy.
New videos from Valqari show many of these features in full operation; the company claims Dronedek’s marketing claims these features as its own, including unique functions like emergency alerts. Valqari Founder and CEO Ryan Walsh puts it thus:
"This new patent further articulates how Valqari has been the leading force in shaping the drone delivery infrastructure market for the past decade and will continue to lead this space for years to come. This new patent covers many key features, from emergency alerts, to network level charging, weather sensors, and so much more. Adding it to our growing patent portfolio will provide significant additional value, as well as definitively show Valqari's commitment and dedication to solving the problems of drone delivery at ground level. This patent further strengthens our foundation and our company has that much more confidence in our technology's position within the market."
Who’s the Mother of this Invention?
The two companies’ dispute is broad in scope, including claims that Arrive (at the time Dronedek) repurposed Valqari’s imagery to use in its own marketing.
While the companies settled that case, there seems to be no lost love between the competitors. Perhaps that animosity is understandable, as both companies originally thought they had invented the concept.
Valqari’s original patent — Landing Pad For Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Delivery — dates its original claim to Jan 2, 2014. Arrive’s — Drone docking station and delivery system —was filed December 9th of that same year. Valqari claims that the patent examiner who worked on the Dronedek application misspelled “receptacle” as “recepticle” when searching for prior art, which is why the earlier patent was not found at the time.
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Passionate Inventors Air Their Thoughts
Conversing with Valqari’s Ryan Walsh, you can see that this ongoing competition is something he takes quite seriously, perhaps even personally:
"Valqari has been at the forefront of drone infrastructure since I filed our very first patent application, New Year's Eve of 2013. We have seen over and over again since showcasing our first prototypes for the first time publicly in 2017, we are solving these problems with elegantly simple solutions, and oftentimes they are so obvious in hindsight, like a drone mailbox, that others try to take credit, or claim it as their own. But with our ability to get patents granted over and over again ahead of competitors, but also to showcase that technology through its development and implementation brings to light just which of those imitators are just the Emperor without his clothes. There are a couple that repeatedly market claims that they are years, if not a decade, away from being able to demonstrate, and that's just unethical. Some of those competitors get so threatened and rattled by our pace of innovation and execution, that they have no other option but to just steal the ideas and blatantly pass off our innovations as their own. We have seen it time and time again, across the entire globe.”
He adds “we have put extensive time and resources into developing our technology over the last decade, and it has been quite a long and treacherous road to get here. The fact that someone thinks they can skip the step of having to put any of the work in and just use the appearance of achieving the end result, especially without our permission and after repeatedly rebuking our good faith offers to find a solution, is just not something we will accept.”
High Stakes for a Growing Industry
While Arrive continues to fundraise, including a recent crowdfunding round that raised $1.3 million, Valqari looks to have even bigger ambitions. A licensing deck circulated to OttOmate lists an impressive array of patents: 30 granted with more on the way, utility patents in a globe-spanning array of countries, and a number of citations by international conglomerates.
Armed with those patents, it looks like Valqari is gearing up to protect its turf, as it lists a number of other companies that potentially violate its IP. It’s a who’s who of drone, ecommerce, and delivery brands: a list that spans America, Europe and Asia.
While Chinese law has often made it difficult for Western corporations to win claims, updates to the country’s patent laws could tilt the scales towards in a more litigant-friendly direction. But with so many hundreds of millions in revenue at stake, even a single win in any jurisdiction would be a large and lucrative vindication of Valqari’s claims. Until then, we’ll have to look to the skies, and await the delivery of any courthouse news.