GE Aviation recently filed petitions with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for inter partes review (IPR) of five patents granted to United Technologies and another to Rolls-Royce, including technology at the heart of the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G, or so-called geared turbofan. GE claims the office improperly granted the patents mainly because of the age of the technologies and concepts in question.
GE directed its challenges at such concepts as bypass ratios, fan blade tip speeds, number of low pressure turbine stages, and use of thermal cooling components, composite materials and variable area fan nozzles with gas turbine engines. The concepts, GE Aviation’s January 29 petitions assert, were well-known in the industry long before the companies in question sought them.
An IPR involves a proceeding conducted by the PTO to review the validity of issued patents. The America Invents Act created the relatively new procedure to help streamline the patent review process and “enhance competitiveness.” Since the PTO first accepted the petitions in 2012, companies have filed thousands of IPRs to dispose of inappropriately granted patents. The entire IPR process, which involves an initial determination of a petition’s validity and a final determination by three-judge panel, typically takes 18 months.
“Just as GE strives to responsibly respect the valid intellectual property rights of third parties, it also works to ensure that the patents it seeks truly reflect new innovations,” said GE in a statement. “IPRs are an especially appropriate tool to challenge patents when a party does not fully disclose what has appeared in the prior art to the PTO.”
The geared turbofan entered service last month on Lufthansa Airlines’ first Airbus A320neo. It also appears on the Bombardier C Series, the new Embraer E2s, the Mitsubishi MRJ and the Irkut MC-21.
GE, meanwhile, collaborates with France’s Snecma on the competing CFM Leap series of turbofans also available on the A320neo family. The CFM Leap-1B flew for the first time on the 737 Max 8 just last Friday and China’s Comac has fit Leap-1Cs onto the first C919 narrowbody.
“GE cannot allow any engine maker to patent decades-old concepts, or broad technology concepts which have been long well-understood and known,” said GE. “Such efforts are in total conflict with the spirit of the patent laws, and create wrongful obstacles that impede technology progress.”