Archer Aviation pushes for dismissal of Wisk trade secret suit

Archer Aviation hit back against allegations that it misappropriated trade secrets and infringed on patents from electric aircraft rival Wisk Aero, telling a court this week that it designed its Maker aircraft with a third-party eVTOL consultant prior to any former Wisk employees joining the company.

Archer said it worked with consultant FlightHouse Engineering at the end of 2019, when the consultancy firm modeled a 12-rotor fixed-wing aircraft, with the front six rotors capable of tilting from a vertical to a horizontal position. This is the design that ultimately became the Maker. By the time the first Wisk employee arrived at Archer, this design had already been modeled, Archer says.

“Despite the breathless innuendo and baseless speculation to which Wisk devotes its entire complaint, Archer’s eVTOL aircraft design is not only the best eVTOL aircraft around, it is entirely Archer’s design,” the answer says.

A Wisk spokesperson told TechCrunch that Archer’s filing changes nothing about the case. It “contains no substantive response to the allegations Archer misappropriated more than 50 specific Wisk trade secrets, which were disclosed in a court filing last month and cover multiple components, systems, and designs for the aircraft,” the spokesperson said. “We believe Archer’s business is built on Wisk’s intellectual property as detailed in our filings, and we look forward to proceeding with our case.”

Wisk filed its lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in April, alleging that Archer perpetrated a “brazen theft” of confidential information and intellectual property. The suit came just two months after Archer announced it would merge with special purpose acquisition company Atlas Crest Investment Corp. in a deal valued at $3.8 billion.

In its filing Tuesday, Archer included counterclaims alleging “tortious interference and unfair competition.” Archer stated that Wisk engaged in a “media campaign” that was timed “to maximize harm to Archer after learning of Archer’s impending financial success.”

In a separate motion to dismiss, Archer also said that Wisk failed to identify any specific trade secrets that it allegedly misappropriated in the April complaint.

Wisk, born of a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk Corp., did include a 72-page trade secret disclosure in a separate injunction filed on May 19. That injunction could potentially bar Archer from using any of the purportedly stolen technology. An Archer spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company will file an opposition to that injunction on June 23, “which will address Wisk’s purported trade secret disclosure statement.”

A major part of Wisk’s suit are allegations that a former Wisk employee, Jing Xue, downloaded thousands of proprietary files from his work computer prior to joining Archer. However, Archer said in the motion to dismiss that Wisk does not allege that the former employee disclosed any such information to Archer. According to Archer, “such allegations do not suffice to show that Archer […] came into possession of the files or learned of the confidential information therein, much less that it did so knowingly, as is required to state a trade secret claim.”