Mitsubishi Countersues Bombardier in Trade Secrets Spat

 - January 28, 2019, 8:00 PM
One of four MRJ flight test vehicles prepares to take to the skies at Moses Lake, Washington. (Photo: Mitsubishi Aircraft)

Mitsubishi Aircraft’s U.S.-based subsidiary, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation America, filed a counterclaim in a Seattle district court on Monday asserting that Bombardier has engaged in illegal anticompetitive behavior in an effort to impede the development and certification of the Mitsubishi MRJ regional jet. The claim comes some three months after Bombardier filed suit against Mitsubishi Aircraft for alleged misappropriation of trade secrets to speed certification of the long-delayed MRJ program.

According to the Mitsubishi countersuit, since late 2015 Bombardier has engaged in a campaign of intimidation against Mitsubishi Aircraft, its U.S.-based partners, and individual employees working on the MRJ program in an effort to further slow the MRJ's development progress. “While these threats and the lawsuit purportedly relate to allegations of trade secret misappropriation, our position is that Bombardier’s allegations of misappropriation lack factual or legal merit,” said Mitsubishi Aircraft in a statement. “Rather, we believe these threats and the present litigation constitute an effort by Bombardier to impede the progress of the development of the MRJ and ultimately, to delay the MRJ from entering the market.”

The Bombardier complaint, filed on October 19, 2018, also names U.S.-based program partner AeroTec, an engineering company Mitsubishi hired to help with the MRJ’s certification, and several former Bombardier employees. According to the lawsuit, Mitsubishi hired at least 92 former employees of the Canadian company with the help of a Montreal-area job fair in July 2016, advertised specifically as an effort to secure systems engineers to work on the MRJ program. Shortly thereafter, Mitsubishi secured an employment commitment from Bombardier’s Transport Canada design approval designee for the C Series and Global 7000/8000, who, according to the suit, actively provided MRJ certification guidance during Bombardier business hours through his personal email one week before he left the Canadian company.

In its own filing, Mitsubishi counters that Bombardier had threatened, pressured, and coerced AeroTec employees into signing anti-competitive non-poaching agreements. The Mitsubishi suit also charges Bombardier with threatening to pull supplier agreements with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as leverage in its efforts to impede the MRJ’s progress.

Speaking with AIN on the day his company filed the counterclaim, a Mitsubishi Aircraft spokesman said Bombardier’s targeting of individuals served to “chill” the mobility of aerospace engineers among all aircraft programs. “Bombardier could have kept this lawsuit between corporate parties,” said the spokesman. “Instead, it chose to sue individuals, taking them into litigation and casting a permanent cloud over their engineering careers...To be clear, none of this is about trade secrets; it’s about Bombardier’s attempts to stifle competition.”

Mitsubishi Aircraft expressed confidence that it would prevail in the case and that Bombardier’s lawsuit would not affect the development and entry into service of the MRJ.

For its part, Bombardier characterized Mitsubishi's countersuit as "misguided and disingenuous."

"The facts of the case plainly show an unlawful attempt by [Mitsubishi Aircraft] to obtain and use trade secrets to advance the certification of its MRJ aircraft," said Bombardier in a statement. "That sort of misconduct is not fair competition as [Mitsubishi Aircraft] pretends; it is wrong and it is illegal."