Electric Aircraft Builders Wisk and Archer Battle Over Trade Secrets

Each company claims the other is at fault.

The Wisk Aero and Archer Aviation aircraft bear a striking resemblance to each other.Courtesy Wisk Aero

You’re not alone if keeping track of the dozens of new electric flying vehicles has your head spinning. Two significant players are Archer Aviation and Wisk Aero. California-based Archer plans to create the world’s first all-electric airline and has already secured orders for regional electric airliners from United Airlines, while Wisk is a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk and financed by Google co-founder Larry Page.

Recently Wisk Aero sued Archer Aviation claiming two of the former’s employees took a number of trade secrets with them when they left Wisk to work at Archer. At first glance most people will easily see the resemblance between the aircraft each company is at work on, a resemblance that’s too similar to suit the people at Wisk.

In a blog post last month, Wisk Aero said, “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…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…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.”

A Wisk spokesman added, “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 New York Times last month reported on the lawsuit brought by Wisk against Archer. “Filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California, the [Wisk] lawsuit accuses two engineers of downloading thousands of files containing confidential designs and data before leaving Wisk to join Archer. Wisk accused a third engineer of wiping history of his activities from his computer before leaving for Archer.” Archer said the claims of patent infringement are false and that the entire matter was simply a smoke screen to cover up why employees have been leaving Wisk. The New York Times quoted a statement from Archer: “The plaintiff raised these matters over a year ago, and after looking into them thoroughly, we have no reason to believe any proprietary Wisk technology ever made its way to Archer. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously.” Archer also said it had placed an employee accused in the suit on paid leave “in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant issued to the employee, which we believe are focused on conduct prior to the employee joining the company.”