Chinese-Made DJI Mavic Drones May Be Taken off US Market Over Patent Infringement

May 15, 2020 Updated: May 17, 2020

The popular Mavic series of drones made by Chinese manufacturer DJI may be yanked from the U.S. market as early as July after a ruling by the International Trade Commission (ITC) found the devices infringe on a patent held by Autel, another Chinese firm.

DJI, the world’s largest maker of drones, infringed on a patent held by Autel, according to Steptoe, the law firm representing Autel before the trade commission. The chief administrative law judge of the ITC recommended that the infringing products—including Mavic Pro, Mavic Pro Platinum, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic Air, and Spark—be banned from importation into the United States.

“If the chief administrative law judge’s determination is upheld by the full commission, these products could be taken off the U.S. market as early as July,” Autel’s law firm said in a statement.

Autel has also filed a petition to extend the import ban to other DJI devices, including the Phantom 4 and Inspire series drones.

DJI declined to comment.

The ruling arrived amid increased scrutiny by federal law enforcement over theft of intellectual property (IP) by the Chinese communist regime. The Department of Justice’s China Initiative has significantly ramped up investigations into IP theft and related matters with cases open in every U.S. state.

DJI is also facing a congressional inquiry over allegations that its devices send data to China. A group of GOP lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee sent letters to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice on May 14 as part of the inquiry.

A DJI Mavic Zoom drone flies
A DJI Mavic Zoom drone flies during a product launch event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City on Aug. 23, 2018. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

DJI drew attention from Congress after news reports emerged about its loan of 100 drones to state and local law enforcement agencies to help with enforcing social distancing guidelines amid the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus pandemic. As of March this year, nearly 1,100 state and local agencies had at least one DJI drone in their fleets, according to a study by Bard College, accounting for roughly 90 percent of all the drones in use by state and local authorities.

The Mavic series of drones are the most popular DJI devices. The company is the dominant player in the U.S. and global consumer drone market.

“This ruling is seminal and may be the basis for decisive legal action against other vanguard companies of the CCP worldwide economic influence campaign. This is where rollback of the CCP begins,” John Mills, former director of cybersecurity policy, strategy, and international affairs at the Pentagon, said in a statement to The Epoch Times.

A number of federal agencies have taken steps to warn against or outright ban the use of DJI drones.

The U.S. Army appears to have used DJI devices at least until August 2017, when the drones were banned “due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products,” according to a notice obtained by sUAS News. At the time, DJI drones were the most widely used off-the-shelf unmanned aerial device in the Army, the notice stated.

The Homeland Security Investigations office in Los Angeles went a step further in an unclassified bulletin (pdf) issued last year, stating “with high confidence” that “critical infrastructure and law enforcement entities using DJI systems are collecting sensitive intelligence that the Chinese government could use to conduct physical or cyber attacks against the United States and its population.”

The Department of Homeland Security released a similar notice in May 2019, warning that U.S. officials have “strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access,” Reuters reported.

The Department of Interior (DOI) formally grounded its drone fleet early this year except for emergency missions. The department’s notice didn’t single out Chinese-made drones, although a spokesman told The Wall Street Journal three months earlier that the grounding was in response to national security concerns around Chinese-made drones. Prior to the grounding, the DOI had cleared DJI’s “government edition” drones in 2019 after an extensive study.

Correction: a previous version of this article incorrectly described the ownership of Autel. The company is based in China.

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