Pratt & Whitney Sues to Block Rolls-Royce Engines

Pratt & Whitney Sues to Block Rolls-Royce Engines
Visitors to the Singapore Airshow walk under Rolls-Royce Group Plc Trent 900 engines powering the Airbus SAS A380 super jumbo passenger plane in Singapore. Photographer: Jonathan Drake/Bloomberg

United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney jet-engine unit filed patent-infringement complaints against Rolls-Royce Group Plc, a counterpunch in a dispute that may affect delivery of Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner airplanes.

Pratt & Whitney claims the Trent 900 and Trent 1000 engines made by London-based Rolls-Royce are infringing a patent for a swept-fan blade, according to a filing today at the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington. A complaint making similar allegations was submitted at the U.K. High Court, East Hartford, Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney said.

A ruling in favor of Pratt & Whitney by the ITC would block Rolls-Royce from shipping Trent 1000 engines into the U.S. for the Dreamliner, Boeing’s newest passenger jet that has been delayed six times. The U.K. lawsuit may limit shipments of the Trent 900 for the Airbus SAS A380, now in use by international carriers including Qantas Airways Ltd., and the Airbus A350XWB model powered by another version of the Trent engine.

“Pratt & Whitney’s case is very strong and we were left with no choice but to take these actions in light of Rolls-Royce’s aggression,” said Katy Padgett, a company spokeswoman. “We regret that these actions are necessary, and we continue to be willing to discuss a mutually acceptable resolution.”

A spokesman for Rolls-Royce declined to comment.

Airlines that ordered the 787 Dreamliner, which is almost three years late for its first delivery, have a choice of the Rolls-Royce engine or the GEnx from General Electric Co.

Escalating Battle

The complaints escalate a battle that started when Rolls-Royce sued Pratt & Whitney in May, claiming the GP7200 Fan Stage infringed a patent for a design that gives the largest part of a jet engine greater resistance to damage by foreign objects, more stability and lower noise levels. The Trent engine that powers the A380 competes with the GP7200 built by a venture between Pratt & Whitney and GE, the world’s biggest jet-engine maker.

Rolls-Royce later added to its complaint Pratt & Whitney’s Geared TurboFan engines, as Airbus and Boeing consider getting more efficient engines on the best-selling A320 and 737 planes.

Pratt & Whitney countered with a lawsuit in September in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, accusing Rolls-Royce of trying to interfere with potential business and unfair business practices. It amended that complaint today to add the patent-infringement claim.

“This is a matter between the engine makers and it would be inappropriate for us to comment,” said a Boeing spokesman, Jim Proulx. An Airbus spokesman, Stefan Schaffrath, also declined to comment.

Rolls Engine Blowouts

United Technologies rose 51 cents to $76.75 at 4:03 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, while Boeing climbed 42 cents to $71.27. GE rose 22 cents to $16.73.

Rolls-Royce fell 4.9 percent to 591 pence in London trading following a 5 percent drop yesterday after Qantas Airways said a design flaw or material failure was probably to blame for a Trent 900 engine failure that forced one of its commercial flights to make an emergency landing.

In a separate incident Aug. 2, an engine blowout at Rolls-Royce’s Trent test site in Derby, England, flung debris at high speed, piercing the housing of the device. The company shuttered the plant for repairs, and Boeing said it would have to delay the Dreamliner’s first delivery planned for that month.

The ITC is a quasi-judicial agency set up to protect U.S. markets from unfair trade practices. It has the power to ban imports of products that infringe U.S. patents. It if agrees to investigate a complaint, a ruling is given in about 15 months.

The ITC case is In the Matter of Certain Turbomachinery Blades and Engines, Complaint No. 2769, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington).

The September case is United Technologies Corp. v. Rolls-Royce Plc, 10cv1523, U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut (New Haven). The earlier case is Rolls-Royce Plc v. United Technologies Corp., 10cv457, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).

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