Update: July 22, 2021
Today, Wisk issued a press release on the continuation of its suit against Archer. Read more here.
Update: July 15, 2021
Last night, Wisk filed a brief in support of its motion for a preliminary injunction against Archer. The filing details newly-obtained documents and testimony from Archer demonstrating misappropriation of Wisk’s trade secrets “on a massive scale,” and that an Archer engineer pleaded the Fifth Amendment. Read more about the filing here.
Update: May 19, 2021
After Wisk filed its Complaint on April 6, Archer publicly disclosed a criminal investigation relating to some of the claims Wisk brought, and Archer’s SPAC sponsor Atlas Crest Investment Corp filed an 8-K noting that it was reviewing these matters. Wisk is fully cooperating with the FBI and Department of Justice in their criminal investigation into Archer relating to the theft and use of Wisk’s intellectual property.
Original Blog: April 6, 2021
Over a decade ago, we had a vision for an all-electric, self-flying air taxi that would enable greater mobility through safe, efficient, everyday flight. Since then, we’ve pursued our mission of developing flight-based solutions that address the growing mobility crisis in ways that are effective, accessible, and environmentally conscious. Our team’s relentless commitment to safety, innovation, and hard work helped us to become the first U.S. company to fly an all-electric, self-flying eVTOL aircraft, cementing Wisk as a recognized industry leader in autonomous eVTOL systems.
Over time, interest in urban air mobility and the applications of eVTOL technology exploded as the market has recognized the opportunity we saw more than 10 years ago. Where once there were only a few relevant companies, now there are several credible and innovative eVTOL players who, like us, have invested years of diligence, creativity, and ingenuity to develop aircraft responsibly.
We believe the growth of credible eVTOL players pushes the Urban Air Mobility (UAM)/Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) industry forward by spurring innovation, advancing safety and commercialization, and creating a healthy and competitive marketplace. It has taken tremendous time, investment, enormous resources, and industry-wide collaboration to create a foundation from which the industry can build trust with the public, the broader aviation industry, regulators, and policy makers. High-integrity players that pursue development responsibly, in an environment of healthy, respectful competition, is critical to building this trust and to the ultimate success of the UAM/AAM industry. For these reasons, we welcome all responsible innovation and fair competition in the eVTOL market.
Unfortunately, and as discussed in the Complaint we filed earlier today, it appears that Archer Aviation, a new entrant in the eVTOL market, is seeking to gain a foothold in this industry without respecting the rules of fair competition. As detailed in the Complaint, we have discovered significant and troubling evidence indicating that Archer has been using Wisk’s proprietary intellectual property without our permission. Among other things, we discovered the misappropriation of thousands of highly confidential files containing very valuable trade secrets, as well as the use of significant innovations Wisk has patented. Wisk’s confidential, proprietary trade secrets and patented innovations represent the hard work and dedication of hundreds of Wisk’s engineers over multiple years. Today we took legal action to ask a federal court to stop Archer from using that stolen Wisk technology and from infringing our patents. This isn’t a step we wanted to take, but we must protect our IP and the decade’s worth of work and innovation we’ve put into Wisk. Here’s some more context.
Archer has made a series of recent pronouncements about its technology and business that surprised the industry, including that it would soon release its own eVTOL aircraft. Just a year ago, Archer appeared to have little or no meaningful operations, let alone the years of research, development, and testing required to fly even a prototype of an eVTOL aircraft.
Archer’s stated timeline for releasing an aircraft was a fraction of the time taken by its serious competitors, using a fraction of the number of employees of those competitors. The development of an entirely new kind of passenger aircraft requires years of engineering and significant expertise to get right, as demonstrated by Wisk and the other leading players in this space. For example, after 10 years of hard engineering and testing, Wisk is currently developing its sixth-generation aircraft, which it plans to certify with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). We believe it is virtually impossible for Archer to have produced an originally-designed aircraft in this timeframe that has gone through the necessary testing and is ready for certification with the FAA.
The design that Archer released for its eVTOL aircraft was particularly surprising. As detailed in our Complaint, it appears to copy the same design that Wisk developed and submitted in a confidential patent application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in January 2020. The copied design includes six front rotors that each consist of five blades and can tilt to be positioned either horizontally or vertically, as well as six rear rotors that each consist of two blades and remain fixed in a vertical position. The design also includes an unconventional “V” tail. A comparison of Wisk and Archer’s designs is shown below:
As detailed in our Complaint, the striking similarity in these designs could not have been a coincidence. The same month that Wisk submitted its patent application, Archer hired ten of Wisk’s engineers. Concerned about this targeted recruiting, Wisk hired a third party to conduct a forensic investigation. That investigation yielded troubling information. We discovered that one of those engineers downloaded thousands of Wisk files near midnight, shortly before he announced his resignation and immediately departed to Archer. Those files contain our valuable trade secrets and confidential information about Wisk’s aircraft development spanning the history of the company, accumulated over countless hours of incremental progress by scores of engineers. Another engineer downloaded numerous files containing test data just before departing for Archer. Yet another wiped any trace of his computer activities shortly before leaving for Archer.
The stolen files include a multitude of Wisk trade secrets for aircraft designs, component designs, system designs, manufacturing, and test data. They include voluminous confidential presentations reporting on the development, simulation and testing of Wisk aircraft, as well as highly technical confidential documents focused on research, design, development, testing and fabrication of specific systems, which compile years of effort by engineers to develop Wisk’s proprietary technology. As our Complaint explains, the design Archer disclosed above reflects its insider knowledge of Wisk’s extensive aerodynamic test and evaluation data based on years of experimentation and modeling. The similarity in overall aircraft design further indicates Archer’s use of more detailed design features, including features related to aircraft propulsion, power management, avionics, flight control, and manufacturing methodology.
The design of the aircraft submitted in Wisk’s patent application is not a result of common knowledge among the industry or basic eVTOL aircraft design. This is a completely new type of aircraft and other companies in the space have come up with their own distinct designs based on their own unique innovation process, as shown below:
All of this taken together – from the massive downloads and other suspicious activity that occurred just before employee transitions to Archer, the copycat aircraft design, and Archer’s startlingly short operational history – have led us to conclude Archer is improperly using Wisk’s intellectual property, as further detailed in the Complaint.
Wisk welcomes fair competition. We are developing a new industry that has already attracted serious effort and capital. We believe we have an obligation to our employees, partners, and investors to protect our IP, and a broader duty to help ensure the responsible development of this industry we helped to create.
Wisk Aero LLC vs. Archer Aviation Inc. – Case No. 5:21-cv-02450.