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Wed, Feb 01, 2012

I Won... No, I Won: Bell, Eurocopter Disagree On Canadian Federal Court Ruling

Both Companies Say Court Ruled In Their Favor In Landing Skid Dispute

Bell Helicopter and Eurocopter have very different interpretations of a Canadian Federal Court's ruling over a patent infringement case brought by Eurocopter. The two companies issued news releases, and both claim the court ruled in their favor.

Eurocopter said the lengthy January 30th ruling indicated that that Bell Helicopter intentionally infringed a patent of Eurocopter and awarded punitive damages and an injunction to Eurocopter. The patent covers an innovative helicopter landing gear design that Eurocopter developed and implemented on its EC120 and EC130 models.

In its findings, the Court determined that Bell leased a Eurocopter EC120 helicopter equipped with the patented landing gear, studied the design of the gear, and created a “slavish copy” to be used on its new 429 model. Remarkably, when Bell employees raised concerns internally regarding similarities between the Bell landing gear and Eurocopter’s patented design, Bell’s management instructed engineers simply to “carry on.” The Court held that “This is a case of willful blindness or intentional and planned misappropriation [by Bell] of the…invention.”

EC120

Significantly, the Court determined that “Bell has misled and continues to mislead the public into believing that the Bell Model 429 is the first helicopter to use a sleigh type landing gear.” In fact, as the Court found, Bell “decided to import and copy the unique and new patented technology developed by Eurocopter.” Ultimately, the Court concluded that “Bell’s overall conduct is highly reprehensible and constitutes a callous disregard for the rights of Eurocopter.”

Accordingly, the Court found that Eurocopter was entitled to punitive damages due to both Bell’s infringement and its “deliberate and outrageous conduct in this case.” The Court has not yet determined the amount of damages due to Eurocopter. Finally, the Court issued an injunction enjoining Bell from manufacturing, using, or selling the infringing landing gear, and also ordered Bell to destroy all infringing landing gears in its possession. Eurocopter said that as soon as it filed the case, "Bell quickly redesigned the landing gear on the 429 model." The Canadian court held that the redesigned landing gear did not infringe Eurocopter’s Canadian patent.

Bell 429

Bell Helicopter took a different tack, stating in a release that the Canadian Federal Court ruled that the current Bell 429 production skid gear, which was at the center of the case, does not infringe the Eurocopter ‘787 Patent. All Bell 429’s have been and will continue to be delivered with the current production gear. “We are pleased with the court’s ruling that the current Bell 429 production skid gear does not infringe the Eurocopter ‘787 Patent, “ said John L. Garrison, President and CEO of Bell Helicopter. “Integrity is at the core of who we are as a company and what we believe.  Bell Helicopter would never knowingly violate the intellectual property of others.”

The Court found 15 of the 16 claims of Eurocopter’s Canadian patent invalid. The Court did find that one of the 16 claims was valid and was infringed by the original, pre-production sleigh skid gear, however, this original skid gear was never placed into production or sold to a customer. “While we respect the Court’s opinion, based on prior art, we believe that the patent should never have been granted for the sleigh gear design. We are considering an appeal on the findings of both validity and infringement,” said Garrison.

“This ruling is a victory for Bell Helicopter, validating the design of the 429 production skid gear” said Garrison. “We intend to continue to vigorously defend the production gear in the pending infringement suits in the U.S. and France. We believe the Canadian court’s decision provides strong support for our position and remain optimistic that we will obtain positive results in those courts.”

FMI: www.eurocopter.com, www.bellhelicopter.com

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