Consumer electronics

Lufthansa wins with Jones Day over electricity supply patent

The UK High Court has found a patent owned by Lufthansa infringed by Astronics, Safran Seats and Panasonic. The patent is for a technology which covers a traveller's personal electricity supply at an aeroplane seat, although it has since expired.

31 July 2020 by Amy Sandys

Lufthansa The UK High Court has found a patent owned by Lufthansa infringed by three defendants, Astronics, Safran Seats and Panasonic ©rh2010/ADOBE STOCK

The UK High Court has found a patent owned by Lufthansa infringed by three defendants. The case concerns European patent EP (UK) 0 881 145 B1. German airline Lufthansa Technik is the original patentee of EP 145 B1, with the European Patent Office granting the patent in 2003.

The patent covers an electrical power supply device for personal use in commercial aeroplanes. However, since the patent has already expired, no injunction or sales ban can be ordered. The result is a damages-only case.

The invention protected by the patent allows a person in a single aeroplane seat to plug in their electronic device individually, while at their seat. The invention aims to provide safety to the passenger plugging in their device, by detecting if a person has inserted a plug or foreign object. Safety precautions are necessary due to the high level of voltage the plug socket permits.

US aerospace company Astronics creates the same technology used for in-flight electronics plugs. French commercial aircraft seat creators Safran Seats makes the seats which use the technology, and Japanese communications company Panasonic creates in-flight entertainment. Panasonic installs power sockets as part of this remit.

Lufthansa lands

All three defendants argued that EP 145 B1 was invalid due to lack of novelty, and because the patent lacks inventive step. To a lesser extent, the court also examined sufficiency.

During the trial, the court examined previous prior art relating to the patent. Presiding judge Paul Morgan found EP 145 B1 valid and infringed by the defendants. The defendants have sought permission to appeal from the judge, but if the judge refuses, it is likely the defendants will seek permission to appeal from the UK Court of Appeal. There could also be an enquiry into the damages.

There are parallel proceedings ongoing in France and Germany. In Germany, the proceedings have ended. In 2014, a nullity suit before the Federal Patent Court against the German part of Lufthansa Technik’s patent was partially successful. The patent was found partially invalid, with the remaining part of the patent infringed.

Since then, however, the appeal process in both validity and infringement proceedings has ended in Germany. Currently, only damage enquiries are ongoing. In France, the first hearing in the case is scheduled for October 2020.

Two actions in one

The actions were heard via video between 22 and 26 June 2020, and on 1 July 2020. This included four days of expert witness statements. During the hearing, two actions were heard together, with Lufthansa the claimant in both actions. In the first action, the defendants were Astronics and Safran Seats. For the second action, Panasonic was the defendant. However, Panasonic was not active in litigation.

In the UK Hogan Lovells represented Astronics and Panasonic, while Pinsent Masons acted for Safran. The same barristers also acted for the three defendants. Christian Stoll, partner at the Hamburg office of Hogan Lovells, acted for Astronics and Panasonic in the parallel case which has since ended. Stoll and the two defendants had worked together previously.

Alastair McCulloch

Alastair McCulloch

As well as representing Lufthansa in the UK, Jones Day also advises the airline in Germany. However, in the previous German proceedings, Jones Day also worked alongside Hamburg-based patent attorney firm Glawe Delfs Moll.

Jones Day and Lufthansa have worked together in Germany since 2010, after Munich partner Gert Jaekel brought the client over from his previous position at Latham & Watkins.

In the UK, this is the first time Jones Day has worked with Lufthansa. However, the firm now advises the airline on a range of issues. Jones Day also represents Lufthansa in France where partner Thomas Bouvet leads the case.

For Lufthansa
11 South Square (London): Hugh Cuddigan, Christopher Hall
Jones Day (London): Alastair McCulloch (partner); associate: Michael Fernando

For Astronics, Safran and Panasonic
11 South Square (London): Piers Acland
Three New Square (London): Stuart Baran
Hogan Lovells (London): Daniel Brook (lead), Stephen Bennett (partners); associates: Alexandra Pearson, Clare Matheson, Hannah Collins
Pinsent Masons (London): Mark Marfe (partner, lead); Krishna Kakkaiyadi

UK High Court of Justice, London
Paul Morgan (deputy judge, presiding judge)