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October 16, 2012

Bell Helicopter says French court rules in its favor in patent dispute

Bell Helicopter said late Tuesday that a French court had ruled that its design for a landing gear for the Bell 429 commercial helicopter had not violated patents of rival Eurocopter.

Bell spokesman William Schroeder said the company had just learned of the ruling by a three judge panel of France’s Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris.

Schroeder said the French court "dismissed Eurocopter's claim for patent infringement on the prototype gear because it was never sold in France." The ruling, like that of the Canadian, court dismissed patent violation claims on the landing gear used in production models of the Bell 429, Schroeder said.

In January, a Canadian court ruled that Bell's initial design for the 429 landing gear was far too similar to the design and features of the "moustache" gear design that Eurocopter produced on some its helicopters. the design violated Canadian patent law, the court ruled.

But the court also ruled that a redesigned landing gear, used on production models of the Bell 429 after Eurocopter raised its complaints, did not encroach on the patent.

A similar patent infringement lawsuit filed by Eurocopter is still pending in U.S. courts.

Eurocopter officials could not be reached for comment. The company's U.S. subsidiary, American Eurocopter, is based in Grand Prairie.

In a press release, Bell Chief Executive John Garrison said:

"This ruling by the French court, once again validating the design of the Bell 429 production skid gear, is a resounding victory for Bell Helicopter. Integrity is woven into the fiber of our company and we work tirelessly to ensure our actions are consistent with this core value.”

Bell said not only dismissed the claims but also ordered Eurocopter to pay the costs of the proceedings, and to pay BHTI and Bell Canada each the sum of €65,000 in costs.

"We intend to continue to vigorously defend the production gear in the pending Eurocopter infringement suit in the U.S. This ruling underscores the Canadian court's decision in a similar ruling in favor of Bell Helicopter and provides strong support for our position," said Garrison.

The Bell 429, a a light twin-engine helicopter, is the company's newest commercial aircraft and the first designed from scratch since the 1970s.



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