By Elan Head

An award-winning journalist, Elan is also a commercial helicopter pilot and an FAA Gold Seal flight instructor with helicopter and instrument ratings. Follow her on Twitter @elanhead

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Wisk seeks injunction to stop Archer from using trade secrets

Wisk Aero has escalated its legal action against rival eVTOL developer Archer Aviation, asking a federal judge to prohibit Archer from using or disclosing what Wisk contends are stolen trade secrets.

Archer eVTOL
A rendering of Archer’s eVTOL design, which Wisk claims was stolen from a confidential patent application. Archer Image

Wisk, a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, filed its motion for preliminary injunction May 19 in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. It specifies a list of asserted trade secrets that are redacted from public records but which relate to critical elements of Archer’s aircraft, systems, and component designs, as well as manufacturing processes and test data. It further requests expedited discovery in Wisk’s civil case against Archer for theft of trade secrets and patent infringement.

Wisk also stated that it is fully cooperating with the FBI and Department of Justice in their criminal investigation relating to the theft and use of Wisk’s intellectual property by a former Wisk employee who now works for Archer. Last month, Archer and Atlas Crest Investment Corp (NYSE: ACIC), the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that seeks to take Archer public, disclosed that Archer had placed an employee on paid administrative leave in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant. A source close to Archer told eVTOL.com that Archer has since been informed that neither the company nor its senior management are targets of the criminal investigation.

“The theft of our highly confidential files, the virtual copy of Wisk’s design from a confidential patent application, and Archer’s startlingly short operational history make clear that Archer’s program is built on Wisk’s intellectual property, as we outlined in our complaint,” a Wisk spokesperson told eVTOL.com by email. “Today, with our motion for a preliminary injunction, we are asking the court to stop Archer from using the valuable trade secrets stolen from Wisk.”

An Archer spokesperson responded: “This a baseless motion in a baseless lawsuit. Archer independently designed its aircraft, before any employees from Wisk joined Archer, and Archer looks forward to demonstrating that in court. Archer is moving forward with its business plans, including the development, certification, and production of its proprietary aircraft.” 

Founded by Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, Archer emerged from stealth in May 2020. Its team boasts a number of engineers poached from Wisk, including VP of engineering Tom Muniz.

Wisk contends that some of those employees took with them confidential and highly valuable files that “collectively represent years and countless hours of research, development, and testing by hundreds of Wisk engineers.” Its May 19 motion identifies a senior power electronics engineer as the employee who allegedly downloaded nearly 5,000 files from Wisk’s secure corporate Google Drive repository before his abrupt departure from Wisk on Jan. 10, 2020.

In June of that year, Wisk says, it reported the alleged theft to the District Attorney for Santa Clara County, who referred the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the Department of Justice also becoming involved. “In the absence of additional evidence that Archer was using the stolen files, Wisk believed its best option was to defer to the authorities to handle the investigation,” Wisk states in its latest motion.

Wisk Archer eVTOL
This comparison between Wisk and Archer eVTOL designs is included in Wisk’s legal filings against Archer. Wisk Image

The company says its stance changed in February 2021, when Archer, “for the first time, revealed the details of a fully developed aircraft — a spitting image of a figure from Wisk’s confidential patent application, filed more than a year earlier.” The correspondence between the two aircraft is the basis of Wisk’s claim of patent infringement.

“The similarities between the two companies’ designs could not have been a coincidence or the result of independent development by Archer,” Wisk’s latest motion states. “It does not take a PhD in aerospace engineering to recognize the similarities.”

This story has been updated to clarify that a former Wisk employee who now works for Archer is the subject of a criminal investigation, not Archer itself.

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4 Comments

  1. OK, so they look similar, but frankly we’re seeing a lot of convergent evolution in this crowded space. Tilt wing, tilt rotor, fixed lift/propulsion props… there’s only so many ways to skin this cat. Maybe they did steal some IP. Can’t say without specifics, but the overall architecture itself shouldn’t be considered unique…

  2. It’s also fairly easy to see that Archer has no test flights yet using publicly available flight data on FlightAware; at least not using either of the two tail numbers recently added to renderings on Archer’s website, N213A and N301AX. As far as I can tell, we have yet to see a genuine photograph of the Maker aircraft, only manicured renderings to generate investor hype. Taking those facts alongside Wisk’s allegations, I don’t see Archer as anything but detrimental to societal acceptance of the eVTOL industry.

    1. N213A, a UF16000, was built by the University of Florida’s UASRP Lab and was registered in Archer’s name with the FAA on 10 July 2019.

  3. Die VTOL-Flugzeuge sind seit über 50 Jahre in allen möglichen und unmöglichen Varianten bekannt. Es wurde gegenseitig kopiert und alle haben Probleme gehabt. Mit der Verbesserung der Antriebe ist es erst möglich geworden ein “Cessna”-Design zum VTOL Flieger zu machen, oder? Das ist auch das einzige sinnvolle und effiziente Desígn, das funktioniert. Alles andere ist Energie Verschwendung.
    Die einzige logische Neuentwicklung kommt von Ptero Dynamics und die ist letztendlich auch schon lange bekannt, nur in einer anderen Anwendung.

    The VTOL aircraft have been known in all possible and impossible variants for over 50 years. It was mutually copied and everyone had problems. With the improvement of the drive systems it became possible to make a “Cessna” design into a VTOL plane, right? This is also the only sensible and efficient design that works. Everything else is a waste of energy.
    The only logical new development comes from Ptero Dynamics and it has been known for a long time, only in a different application.

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