*Updated 5/8/2018 14:22 EST to include response from Farmers Edge.
A two-year-long lawsuit filed against US ag data startup Farmobile by Canadian precision agtech company Farmers Edge has ended in victory for Farmobile after the US District Court for the District of Nebraska found no proof the former had stolen trade secrets from Farmers Edge.
Farmers Edge had alleged that Farmobile co-founders Jason Tatge, Heath Gerlock and Randy Nuss, former employees of Crop Ventures that was acquired by Farmers Edge in 2014, had misappropriated purportedly proprietary information in the development of farm data-collection and standardization technologies.
Judge Joseph Batallion found the “plaintiffs have failed to identify any use or disclosure of the alleged trade secrets.” The court also noted there was no proof that Farmobile co-founders were hired to “invent a specific device, system, or method” which “eventually became the Farmobile ‘767 patent application,” as suggested by Farmers Edge.
Farmobile has developed a small in-cab unit for farm equipment called a PUC that wirelessly shares machine and agronomic data gathered in the field in real-time and allows the farmer to share it with advisors and employees such as agronomists or insurance agents. The company sells the PUC along with various sensors and a complimentary software service that produces Automatic Electronic Field Records (EFRs) for customers.
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Farmers Edge is arguably one of the more established companies in the farm management software, sensing, and IoT field after first launching in Canada in 2005. It also collects machine data through its connected sensor dubbed the CanPlug, as well as installing weather stations for every 2,500 acres it monitors and integrating satellite imagery.
“We welcome the court’s decision. Truth won out and justice was served,” said Jason Tatge, CEO of Farmobile. “Farmobile takes great pride in the development of its technology and respects the intellectual property rights of others… The US District Court of Nebraska could find no facts to back the claims made by Farmers Edge.”
Farmobile filed counterclaims against Farmers Edge in March 2017 to enforce its Canadian patent. According to the Statement of Claim filed in Court, Farmobile alleges that a device and system used, operated and sold by Farmers Edge infringes Farmobile’s Canadian patent. The case is pending trial.
Farmers Edge released a statement in the wake of the judgment saying it believes there are grounds for appeal. “[We] will proceed with further action once the counterclaims have been dispensed with. It was made clear during the proceedings that Farmobile chose to abandon their US patent application due to prior art, which puts into question the validity of any Farmobile patent related to this matter,” reads the statement.
“This is about much more than patents or money, this is about values,” said Wade Barnes, president and CEO of Farmers Edge. “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.”
When Farmers Edge first sued Farmobile, Tatge hinted that timing played a role in the action in a statement.
“What is most notable about this lawsuit is its timing, he wrote. “On April 8, 2016, we made a game-changing advancement. We announced our new Data Store…” Tatge also pointed to Farmobile’s strategy of enabling farmers to make money from their data as a sore point for many in the agtech industry. “We are directly challenging the foundational ideas around ownership of data, and have been exceptionally vocal about farmers’ rights every step of the way. A few don’t like what we’re doing; however, many more are excited for the opportunity to acquire quality, ground-truthed data sets at scale and provide their farmer customers with enhanced services. Farmers, too, are excited about finally getting paid directly for the data they generate.”