Bell, Eurocopter claim “wins” in Canadian court dispute

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A Canadian federal court has ruled that Eurocopter is entitled to punitive damages from Bell Helicopter over a patent infringement of Eurocopter's trademark "sleigh" type landing gear skids, a design used on the company's single-engine EC120 and EC130 turbine helicopters.

"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 Bell 429 model," Eurocopter said in a press release describing the outcome of the 3.5-year-old case. The court published its finding on 30 January.

Images of the Bell 429 from as early as 2006 clearly show the sleigh type landing gear while later pictures reveal a less streamlined skid design for the production model. Eurocopter said Bell "quickly redesigned" the 429 landing gear once it filed the suit in May 2008. Bell certified the new medium twin in 2009 with the redesigned landing gear skid configuration.

 

 ©EUROCOPTER / BELL HELICOPTER

"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 Garrison, president and chief executive officer of Bell, regarding the ruling. "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."

Garrison came to Bell in July 2009, taking the reigns from the retiring Richard Millman, who had been in the position from January 2007. Michael Redenbaugh, chief executive before Millman, had resigned from the company.

Bell noted that the court found 15 of Eurocopter's 16 claims in the suit were "invalid".

"The Court did find that one of the 16 claims was valid and was infringed by the original, pre-production sleigh skid gear [of the Bell 429], however, this original skid gear was never placed into production or sold to a customer," Bell said.

"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," Garrison said. "We are considering an appeal on the findings of both validity and infringement." Bell did not dispute Eurocopter's allegation that it leased and studied an EC120.

Eurocopter meanwhile said it has filed patent infringement claims against Bell in the US and France over the company's redesigned landing gear.

The Canadian court has not yet determined the punitive damages to be awarded to Eurocopter.