Aviation Partners seeks Airbus Sharklet lawsuit dismissal

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Seattle-based Aviation Partners, patent-holders of the blended winglet, is seeking a dismissal of an Airbus lawsuit to clarify the intellectual property rights of the European airframer's use of its sharklet design on its A320.

If the case is not dismissed, API has requested its relocation to Seattle.

Air New Zealand currently serves as launch customer for the sharklets and anticipates taking delivery of its first A320 with winglets later this year.

The implications of the lawsuit filed by Airbus could nullify any royalty claims by API if its sharklet design is found to use API's intellectual property.

Airbus and API have worked together since early 2006, court documents claim, when "API approached Airbus to determine whether Airbus would be interested in retrofitting Airbus's A320 aircraft with API's blended winglet."

API said Airbus "stated emphatically" that API's blended winglet technology "could not be used on the A320 in-production (i.e. new) or retrofit aircraft."

Following aerodynamic and structural analyses, API and Airbus agreed to flight test the blended winglet and in 2009 tasked A320 MSN1 for evaluating the wingtip treatments.

"After this test, the parties could not agree as to whether the results met the minimum benchmark performance benefit required by Airbus," said documents, and API went about demonstrating the winglets on a production JetBlue A320.

Joe Clark, API CEO, said in the documents filed with the US District Court for the western district of Texas: "API achieved drag reduction far in excess of the minimum benchmark during those tests - and far in excess of the recently announced efficiencies of the "Sharklet." Upon completion of the flight test. Airbus acknowledged that the API blended winglets did indeed perform at a superior level."

Airbus claims a 3.5% improvement in fuel burn for the A320 with its sharklets.

API claims Airbus then sought a patent for its own sharklet design, whose outfitting on the A320 was first announced in November 2009 at the Dubai air show.

API and Airbus entered into a memorandum of understanding in July 2011 of which the "stated intent of the MoU was to form a joint venture to commercialise API's Blended Winglets Technology for the A320 family of aircraft, and to provide wing reinforcement work that would facilitate the engineering and design required to install blended winglets on existing Airbus aircraft for the retrofit market".

Following this work of the MoU, Clark claims Airbus went ahead and developed its own sharklet device and Airbus engineers involved with API's work with Airbus filed their own patent and "did not disclose to API that it had it filed this application until after the application became public".

In summer 2011, Clark claimed Airbus provided API data and information about its sharklet design which held a "striking similarity" to API's blended winglet technology patent.

After terminating its combined involvement with any winglet development plan, Airbus filed suit in Texas in December seeking to determine that its sharklets do not infringe upon API's blended winglet.