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Virgin Atlantic fail in flat-bed seat suit

Written by Tim Mount on 23 January 2009

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Virgin Atlantic intend to appeal their recent failure in a suit against airline seat manufacturer Contour (Premium Aircraft Interiors). Virgin were seeking large damages and an injunction to stop Contour manufacturing a flat-bed aircraft seat that Virgin believed infringed unregistered design and patent rights they hold.

The decision turned on claim construction and drafting. Virgin's Mr Richard Meade QC based Virgin's interpretation of the monopoly on the division of the claim into a pre-characterising part and a characterising part:

"[Mr Meade's] argument is that anything in the pre-characterising part of the claim must be interpreted as describing the prior art. Accordingly any integer in that part of the claim cannot (or should not) be interpreted so as to claim some feature which is not found in the prior art. In my judgment this overstates the effect of the division of the claim into these two parts."


In the words of The Honourable Mr. Justice Lewison the task for the court was to determine what the person skilled in the art would have understood the patentee to have been using the language of the claim to mean.

"Accordingly, if I had construed the patent in suit in the manner for which Virgin Atlantic contended, I would have held that it was invalid for added matter."


Virgin Atlantic failed to prove that Contour copied its designs, and consequently the claim for infringement of unregistered design rights failed.

The patent was found to be valid but also not infringed. Contour did not challenge its validity in the proceedings, although they argued that if the patent were to be infringed by a reclining seat, the patent is invalid on the grounds of anticipation, obviousness and added matter.

The full text of the judgment is at:

<http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Patents/2009/26.html#para182>

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