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Rockwell and Beckhoff settle linear motor patent dispute

25 August, 2014

A legal dispute between Rockwell Automation and Beckhoff Automation over linear motor patents has been settled “amicably”, with Rockwell granting Beckhoff licences to more than a dozen of its US and European linear motor patents.

The agreement allows the German automation supplier Beckhoff to sell its XTS linear transport system anywhere in the world, except in the US, where it will have to wait until June 2019 before selling the system.

Beckhoff unveiled its XTS (eXtended Transport System) in 2012 with the claim that it combined the advantages of linear and rotary motors and would make complete new machine concepts possible. The system (demonstrated above) propels carriages containing magnetic plates around a track that can be made into almost any shape using combinations of curved and straight sections. The track contains coils which drive the cable-free carriages – called movers ­– at speeds of up to 4m/s.

But Beckhoff was not the only company with a technology like this. Jacobs Automation, a US specialist in intelligent track technology, had developed a similar system, called iTrak (shown above), that provided independent control of multiple magnetically propelled movers on straight or curved paths.

In January 2013, Jacobs and Rockwell Automation announced that they were collaborating to combine iTrak with Rockwell’s Integrated Architecture, thus offering machine-builders a tightly integrated motion technology for use on production lines.

At the time, Victor Swint, vice president of Rockwell’s motion control business said: “We believe that the combination of Jacobs' iTrak technology with our Integrated Architecture will be a game-changer for machine-builders. They are going to be able to provide their customers with the most innovative machines in the market.”

Beckhoff will have to wait until 2019 before selling its XTS transport system in the US

Not long after – in November of 2013 – Rockwell announced that it was buying Jacobs Automation.

By that stage, Rockwell had already begun legal proceedings against Beckhoff in the US courts, alleging that the German company was infringing five of its linear motor patents.

Rockwell’s linear motor business, now including Jacobs Automation, has a portfolio of more than 100 patents covering linear motor technologies.

Rockwell’s complaint, filed in the Nevada district court in September 2013, covered alleged infringements of a series of patents, some of which dated back to 1999. Rockwell also asked the court for a temporary restraining order to stop Beckhoff from exhibiting the XTS system at the Pack Expo show in Las Vegas later that month.

The two parties then entered negotiations which resulted in Beckhoff agreeing, among other things, not to sell or exhibit the XTS system in the US. It also agreed to keep the XTS system that it has been planning to exhibit at the Las Vegas show in the US to allow Rockwell’s experts and attorneys to inspect it.

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