Rolls-Royce files patent infringement complaint

Rolls-Royce has announced that it has filed an amended complaint against United Technologies Corporation (UTC).

The complaint, filed in the Federal Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in the US, alleges infringement by UTC of the Rolls-Royce swept fan blade patent.

The complaint specifically alleges that the fan stages on the Engine Alliance GP7200 engine and on UTC’s PW1000G engine (also known as the Geared Turbofan) infringe the Rolls-Royce patent.

The complaint also alleges that a number of other UTC aero civil engines infringe the Rolls-Royce patent. Rolls-Royce is seeking damages and injunctions.

It is expected that the case will be heard before a jury in the Eastern District of Virginia in the first half of 2011.

The dispute has its origins in the mid-1990s when Rolls-Royce and UTC filed for similar patents within five months of one another.

In 2003 UTC applied to the US Patent Office to have the Rolls-Royce swept fan blade patent, which was filed after its own, struck out. UTC’s efforts were unsuccessful and the validity of the Rolls-Royce patent was eventually upheld in the US by a Court of Appeal decision in May 2010.

Pratt & Whitney, the UTC company that designs and manufactures aircraft engines, industrial gas turbines and space propulsion systems, believes the named engines do not infringe the Rolls-Royce patent and that the Rolls-Royce patent is invalid and unenforceable. Similarly, the company believes the lawsuit lacks merit and will vigorously defend itself.

Paul Foot, patent attorney and engineering sector specialist at Withers & Rogers, said: ‘This dispute underlines the importance of having faith in the value of your intellectual property, and the courage to use it for commercial advantage.

‘The Rolls-Royce patent is coming out on top because it was able to back up the content of its application with examples of the commercial success of the invention. This attention to detail clearly impressed the US Court of Appeal and is now giving Rolls-Royce confidence to police its monopoly over the invention on UTC’s home turf.

‘UTC has also challenged Rolls Royce’s equivalent European patent without success, so we may see the battle move to these shores in coming months.’

Pratt & Whitney predicts that its new geared turbofan engine will reduce the environmental impact of flying and save airlines millions. Click here to read more (subscription required).