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OPINION: Should P&W be gearing up for patent battle?

Another engine patent war is brewing on the horizon. Rolls-Royce has plans to offer its UltraFan to Boeing for the proposed New Midsized Aircraft (NMA). But the UltraFan contains a power gearbox: a technology that Pratt & Whitney asserts is protected under a generic patent for a geared turbofan engine.

P&W president Bob Leduc says that if Boeing selects the UltraFan for a future NMA, he could move to defend his company’s intellectual property.

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It would not be the first time P&W accused Rolls of cheating. In 2010, P&W appealed to the US International Trade Commission to block Boeing from importing Trent 1000s for the 787-8 over a patent claim, but the issue was settled a year later.

One year on from that, GE Aviation made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to overturn P&W’s broad claim over geared turbofan technology, arguing that it, too, had shown prior art, by experimenting with a NASA-funded geared fan in the late 1970s.

Rolls may have an even better legal rebuttal to P&W. In addition to experimenting in the late 1960s with the geared M45SD turbofan, the UK manufacturer and P&W worked together for several years on the geared SuperFan engine.

It is a pity that such collaborations seem like ancient history. If P&W and Rolls want to wrest GE’s grip from Boeing aircraft, maybe they should work together.

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