Sunday, 7 November 2010
Rolls-Royce - patent suit follows engine failure
There was mild interest in the engineering press in August on the news that aero engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce had launched a patent infringement action in the Eastern District of Virginia against US rival Pratt & Whitney. RR’s share price rose by around 1% whilst that of P&W’s owner, United Technologies, barely changed.
This has turned into headline news in the mainstream press with the announcement on Friday that Pratt & Whitney has retaliated with actions before the US International Trade Commission and the England and Wales Patent Court. The fact that the Trent 900 engine complained of had recently failed on a Quantas A380 aircraft doubtless contributed to newsworthiness of the item. Bloomberg reported a 4.9% fall in the RR share price, with UT’s share price rising just under 1%.
This case has some interesting ingredients: even if the Patents Court action fails to halt manufacture of the Trent in the UK, Bloomberg notes that the ITC action could prevent RR from shipping Trent engines to Boeing for use in their new Dreamliner aircraft. The RR patent has already been the subject of protracted interference proceedings. Of more interest still are the underlying commercial conditions that have driven the two companies to litigate despite them already being joint venture partners in International Aero Engines AG. Hopefully the actions will shed more light.