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​Mitsubishi countersuit ratchets up Bombardier acrimony

Mitsubishi Aircraft’s countersuit against Bombardier constitutes a detailed rebuttal of the Canadian manufacturer’s claims against the MRJ regional jet programme.

The 116-page suit filed with a US federal court takes issue with allegations made by Bombardier against Mitsubishi related to its practice of employing workers from other aerospace companies. It also denies Bombardier’s allegations that some of its former employees emailed sensitive information related to MRJ certification to their personal accounts.

It alleges that Bombardier’s legal efforts are designed to reduce competition in a tight regional jet market dominated by the Canadian manufacturer and Brazil’s Embraer.

Bombardier’s October 2018 suit was filed against Mitsubishi Aircraft, Aerospace Testing Engineering and Certification (AeroTEC), and former Bombardier employees. It alleged that staff recruited employees from Bombardier, "inducing" them to steal Bombardier trade secrets, violating US federal and Washington state trade secret laws.

AeroTEC is assisting in the certification of the MRJ regional jet programme. The company recently asked a federal judge to throw out a request by Bombardier that would prohibit several AeroTEC staffers from working on MRJ certification.

Mitsubishi has previously rebutted Bombardier's claims as unfounded. In the counter suit, it contends that Bombardier’s code of ethics does not preclude employees from emailing themselves company documents.

“It was common practice for Bombardier employees to send Bombardier documents to their home email systems so that they could work on and complete work assignments at home,” it says.

“Bombardier knew or should have known that the Bombardier documents that the individual defendants allegedly sent to their home email systems contained no trade secret information that would have been of use in the development, manufacture, or certification of the MRJ.”

At several points, Mitsubishi contends that Bombardier has failed to “sufficiently” identify “purported trade secrets,” and that it “further denies that [Mitsubishi America] has misappropriated any Bombardier trade secrets."

Bombardier's suit alleged that the stolen documents included CSeries certification reports related to airspeed, static pressure and air temperature systems – documents "invaluable to anyone involved in an effort to certify aircraft for entry into service."

On the topic of recruitment, Mitsubishi says the free movement of skilled employees is commonplace in the highly specialised aerospace industry, and Bombardier’s suit endangers the free movement of people. Since 2015, Mitsubishi contends that Bombardier has worked to limit its recruiting activities on behalf of the MRJ.

“Individual engineers and competitors for their talent are harmed by Bombardier’s campaign to impede the movement of skilled engineers,” it says. “The industry is highly concentrated and news travels fast when any company or individual in the industry is sued. Bombardier’s threats and actual litigation against individual employees chills the marketplace for such talent, which will endure for several years to come.”

It contends that its hiring efforts related to the MRJ have been “undermined,” with prospective employees now wary of joining Mitsubishi.

It offers examples where it believes that Bombardier raised the issue of Mitsubishi’s recruitment practices in the context of its status as a supplier to Bombardier. One of these is a July 2016 letter from Bombardier chief executive Alain Bellemare to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries chairman Hideaki Omiya that “implicitly threatened the continuation of the supply relationship between Bombardier and MHI unless MHI ceased the solicitation of Bombardier employees."

Bombardier, for its part, was quick to kybosh Mitsubishi’s counter suit.

"Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (MITAC)’s attempt to recast the dispute as anything other than Bombardier’s justified protection of its intellectual property is misguided and disingenuous,” it said in an email to FlightGlobal.

"The facts of this case plainly show an unlawful attempt by MITAC to obtain and use Bombardier trade secrets to advance the certification of its MRJ aircraft. That sort of misconduct is not fair competition as MITAC pretends, it is wrong and it is illegal. Bombardier will vigorously enforce its rights and that includes holding MITAC, AeroTEC and individual wrongdoers accountable."

The MRJ90 and MRJ70 are Japan’s first commercial airliners since the NAMC YS-11 programme of the 1960s. After years of delays, the MRJ90 is due to commence certification flight testing this year, while work on defining the smaller MRJ70 continues.

Most of the certification testing will be conducted by AeroTEC from Mitsubishi Aircraft’s base at Moses Lake in the USA, where it has had four MRJ90s involved in various flight tests.

The MRJ90 is targeted to enter service with launch customer All Nippon Airways in 2020, six years later than originally planned. Mitsubishi Aircraft has so far garnered 213 orders for the type.

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