The Canadian Federal Court of Appeal unanimously upheld Eurocopter’s right to seek punitive damages against Bell Helicopter for patent infringement related to the sleigh-style “Moustache” landing gear design on the Eurocopter EC120 and EC130. Bell had appealed a lower court ruling that had cleared the way for Eurocopter to seek up to $25 million in punitive damages.
Bell did not copy the design for a production helicopter, but Eurocopter charged that its distinctive skid design found its way onto prototypes of the Bell 429. Bell had leased an EC120 to study its gear design during development of the 429 and manufactured 21 sets of a gear design that Eurocopter claimed infringed on its patent for it. A prototype 429 with a gear design that Eurocopter deemed proprietary was displayed at a trade show, prompting the European company to claim infringement and sue for damages. Bell responded by changing the gear design on production helicopters.
The Court of Appeal ruled that Bell displayed “bad faith and egregious conduct,” but counseled restraint in the award of any final damages.