Monday, May 23, 2011

Rolls Royce Loses Patent Infringement Suit Against Pratt & Whitney

Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce


A patent infringement lawsuit by Rolls Royce against Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies regarding fan blade design for the GP7200 engine used on the Airbus A380 and the forthcoming PW GTF series of engines was decided in favor of Pratt & Whitney.  This decision clears the way for PW to continue to move forward with its GTF engine program.


Rolls Royce, PLC and Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies,  partners in International Aero Engines, who make the V2500 engine for the Airbus A320, have seen their relationship deteriorate recently.  Pratt & Whitney, after discussions with Rolls Royce, determined that it would market its GTF engine itself, rather than through IAE, and with the Rolls Royce RB285 design gaining no traction with aircraft manufacturers, Rolls Royce now appears to be left out of the narrow body market, with the CFM Leap-X and PW1000G the engines of choice for the next generation of aircraft.

As the relationship hardened, Rolls Royce took legal action against Pratt & Whitney for alleged patent infringement regarding the design of engine fan blades.  That case, which would have had major financial implications for each firm, has been decided on summary judgment in favor of Pratt & Whitney.

The infringement suit focused on the GP7200 and forthcoming GTF designs.   Rolls Royce had patented a design that had three different sweeps in different direction to minimize airflow turbulence caused by the fan inside the engine.   Pratt & Whitney, in developing the fan for the GP7200 engine produced by a joint venture of Pratt & Whitney and GE Aircraft Engines for the A380, also utilizes a sweep design, but in four directions.  The court has decided that the differences in the blades are such that no infringement has occurred, and decided the case on summary judgment in favor of Pratt & Whitney.

As a part of the settlement for this case, PW also agreed to a voluntary injunction not to utilize a three sweep blade on the forthcoming GTF engine series.   Since it does not utilize such a design anyway, this injunction will ensures that the GTF program will not be slowed by any potential appeal of that litigation.
The implications are significant.  PW is clear to move ahead aggressively with its GTF program without the threat of lawsuit, and can also continue to aggressively compete with Rolls Royce on the A380 series.   This is a huge win that corresponds to the changing competitive dynamics in the industry - PW is regaining its market at the expense of its competitors, and has sidestepped a potential roadblock its competitor tried to throw in the way.

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