The Court of Appeal of England and Wales has, on an application by Delta for summary judgment, overturned Mr Justice Arnold’s decision to the effect that, based on Arnold J’s interpretation of the main patent claim, Virgin had no real prospect of establishing that Delta had infringed its patent for an aircraft seating system. Lord Justice Jacob disagreed with the judge’s claim interpretation and stated that the claim was not limited to a seating system fitted into an aircraft. Instead, it covered a system capable of being so fitted.

BACKGROUND

Virgin had previously sued Contour, which manufactured seats and sold incomplete seat parts to Delta. In October 2009, the Court of Appeal held that Virgin’s patent was valid and infringed by Contour. Virgin then sued Delta, claiming that, as a customer of Contour, Delta was a joint infringer with the seat manufacturer.  

Subsequently, in September 2010, Virgin amended patent claims in opposition proceedings at the European Patent Office (EPO). Claims to a seat unit for a passenger seating system for an aircraft were deleted. The patent as amended contained only claims for “a passenger seating system for an aircraft”.  

The action against Delta as joint infringer had been stayed pending the EPO proceedings. Post amendment, Delta applied for summary judgment.  

In his judgment of 30 November 2010, Mr Justice Arnold held that Virgin had no real prospect of establishing that Delta had infringed Virgin’s patent. Accordingly, granting Delta’s application for summary judgment, the judge dismissed Virgin’s action for infringement. He held that Contour did not infringe because the main patent claim (Claim 1) required a seating system comprising a plurality of seat units assembled and arranged on an aircraft. Contour only supplied an incomplete kit of parts to Delta, which Delta assembled abroad. He further stated that, while it could be argued that manufacture in the United Kingdom of a complete kit of parts for assembling a patented device could infringe a patent, it could not be argued that the manufacture in the United Kingdom of an incomplete kit of parts subsequently exported could infringe.  

DECISION  

The Court noted that in classical patent law, “for” claims are normally construed as meaning “suitable for”. This, in light of EPO guidance, led to the conclusion that the term “system for an aircraft” should be approached with a very strong presumption of understanding it to mean “suitable for”:  

“Only if one is compelled by the rest of the claim read in the light of the specification as a whole to read it as limited to a system when fitted on an aircraft should it be read as a system on an aircraft”.  

The Court of Appeal found no such reason for interpreting the claim as reading “system on an aircraft”, and indeed, even without the presumption, was of the opinion that the skilled man, reading the claim in context, would understand it to mean “suitable for” and that the claim was not limited to a seating system fitted into an aircraft.

The Court of Appeal therefore discharged the declaration of non-infringement granted by Arnold J, allowed the appeal, and held that the case must proceed to trial.