Delta Must Face Virgin on Upper-Class Seating Patent, Court Says

Delta Air Lines Inc., the world’s second-biggest carrier, should go to trial over Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd.’s claims it infringed a patent for its upper-class seating system, a U.K. appeals court ruled.

A November 2010 ruling in Delta’s favor erred because the patent covering the seating system applies to seats assembled off the aircraft, not just those on board, Justice Robin Jacob wrote at the Court of Appeal in London today.

“The case must proceed to trial, where, I understand, Delta will take a number of other non-infringement points,” Judge Jacob wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

Virgin, the long-haul carrier controlled by billionaire Richard Branson, sued Atlanta-based Delta in 2008 for using upper-class seats designed by Premium Aircraft Interiors Group Ltd., a U.K. aircraft-interior designer that was sued by Virgin a year earlier for about 49 million pounds ($79.6 million).

The ability to provide comfortable reclining seats on long-haul routes can play a vital part in the success of an airline, according to an earlier judgment in the case. When Virgin introduced its flat-bed seats in 2003 it increased its market share on long-haul routes by 12 percent, it said.

Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton didn’t immediately return a call before business hours today.

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