Bell Helicopter is an American rotorcraft manufacturer headquartered in Hurst, Texas, near Fort Worth. The company was founded on July 10, 1935 as Bell Aircraft Corporation by Lawrence Dale Bell in Buffalo, New York. The company focused on designing and building of fighter aircraft.
The Eurocopter Group is a global helicopter manufacturing and support company. It is the largest in the industry in terms of revenues and turbine helicopter deliveries. The Eurocopter Group was formed in 1992 through the merger of the helicopter divisions of Aérospatiale and Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG (DASA).
Eurocopter is the owner of the Canadian Patent 2,207,787 which covers an innovative helicopter landing gear design that Eurocopter developed and implemented on its highly successful EC120 and EC130 models.
Between 2004 and 2007, Bell helicopters developed a landing gear for its new Bell 429 helicopter. The Bell 429 landing gear had all the characteristics of Eurocopter’s proprietary technology. The first flight of the Bell 429 equipped with this landing gear took place in February 2007. Soon thereafter, Eurocopter launched an action against Bell to enforce its 787 patent. Bell denied infringement and attacked the validity of Eurocopter’s patent.
The original landing gear on the Bell Model 429, referred to by Justice Martineau as the “Legacy Gear,” had a sleigh-type shape. Bell Helicopter’s process to obtain certification of its Model 429 helicopter was interrupted by Eurocopter’s commencement of an action claiming that Bell Helicopter had infringed Eurocopter’s Canadian Patent No. 2,207,787, relating to a sleigh-type skid helicopter landing gear. Bell Helicopter counterclaimed alleging the invalidity of the Eurocopter patent on several grounds, as well as an entitlement to several defences to infringement, including the regulatory or experimental use exception and the Gillette defence, claiming it was simply practicing the prior art in using the Legacy Gear.
On January 30, 2012, Judge Luc Martineau of the Federal Court of Canada handed down his decision in Eurocopter (Société par actions simplifiée) v. Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Limitée, 2012 FC 113 for a skid-type helicopter landing gear.
Following a lengthy trial involving many fact and expert witnesses, the court refused to accept Eurocopter’s argument that the Production Gear is “simply a slightly modified version of the Legacy Gear that functions in an equivalent manner.” The court held that the landing gear certified and sold by Bell Helicopter on its Model 429 helicopter, namely the Production Gear, does not infringe the Eurocopter patent. The court invalidated all but one claim of Eurocopter’s patent. Bell Helicopter is therefore free to continue all use and sales of its Model 429 helicopter with its existing landing gear.
In addition to awarding to Eurocopter damages and punitive damages, the judge also issued an injunction enjoining Bell from manufacturing, using, or selling the infringing landing gear, and also ordered Bell to destroy all infringing landing gears in its possession.