Lawyers from a Birmingham firm have won a six-year battle against Virgin Atlantic Airways – saving their client from a £48 million payout.
The intellectual property team at Wragge & Co secured a groundbreaking Supreme Court overruling on behalf of airline seating company Zodiac Seats UK which faced a multi-million pound bill.
The long-running dispute with the airline surrounded a bid for damages for infringement of a patent for flat-bed upper class aircraft seats.
Virgin Atlantic alleged Zodiac, which used to be known as Contour but is now owned by Zodiac Aerospace, had infringed a European patent, and the Court of Appeal found the patent had been infringed.
However in a case brought to the Supreme Court by Colmore Row firm Wragge & Co, the fact that the patent had been amended substantially by the European Patent Office cancelled any claim by Virgin Atlantic for damages.
Head of intellectual property at Wragge & Co, Gordon Harris, said as a result of the appeal more than 100 years of law has been overturned.
He said: “Not only have we saved them an enormous sum in potential damages, but we have materially changed the law.
“A chain of authority going back to 1908 has been overruled and a new, more modern and sensible approach has replaced it. It is a rare joy for a litigator to be able to win for a client, and at the same time achieve a law-changing result which brings about a more just system.
“This case has reached all corners of the globe, with issues still running in the USA, Canada and India, as well as the European Patent Office. This win is not the absolute end of the case, but it is a huge step along the way.”
The legal action began in 2007 when Virgin Atlantic, represented by DLA Piper, sued Contour for patent and design right infringement.
Since then the parties have been to the Court of Appeal, the European Patent Office (EPO) and most recently in April 2013 to the Supreme Court.
This latest stage has seen the Supreme Court rule that the damages are not liable to be paid as the patent has been invalidated by the EPO.
Zodiac – then traded as Contour – faced bankruptcy in 2009 when faced with the legal action from Virgin Atlantic.
Fighting the case helped turnaround the company, which was sold to Zodiac for £274 million in 2011.
Following the ruling, Virgin Atlantic announced it would exit aircraft seat production, and sold the engineering department of its Threesixty Aerospace, employing about 20 staff, to Zodiac in an undisclosed deal.
Virgin said, in a statement: “It is not a core part of our business to also manufacture those products, and therefore we have taken the decision to transfer the undertakings.”