Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited v Premium Aircraft Interiors UK Limited [2009]

The Court of Appeal has upheld Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited’s (Virgin Ltd) patent infringement claim against Premium Aircraft Interiors UK Limited (Premium Ltd) for a patent for flat-bed upper class aircraft seats.

The key issue was whether the patent was restricted to a seat which converted into a bed by the back of the seat flipping-over rather than by reclining.

Premium Ltd argued that it had not infringed the patent because the patent claim was restricted to flip-over seats rather than the reclining seats (that Premium Ltd had manufactured). The High Court agreed with Premium Ltd. Virgin Ltd subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal held that the patent clearly identified the problem of lost space which resulted from the design of upper class seats and the idea of extending the bed into this space to make use of it had no bearing on whether the seat flipped-over or reclined. The skilled reader would have no reason to suppose that the patent was limited to flip-over seats.

Premium Ltd argued that the patent should be revoked as the parent application only disclosed seats which flipped-over. If the main claim of the patent now encompassed seats which also reclined then the patent disclosed ‘additional matter’.

The Court of Appeal rejected Premium Aircraft’s arguments and held that there was a distinction between disclosure and the scope of a claim a claim could encompass more than the specification disclosed. Merely because the main claim included seats which did not flip-over did not mean that a failure to expressly disclose such seats in the parent application constituted ‘added matter’.

Examining the parent application, the Court of Appeal held that the person skilled in the art would be in no doubt that it identified different objects and described various ideas for fulfilling them including flip-over seats. The embodiments in the parent application that referred to a flip-over seat were provided to illustrate and not ‘circumscribe the scope of the monopoly’.

The Court of Appeal emphasised in this case that the skilled reader should be viewed as having some knowledge of patent law and that patent claims may not necessarily be limited by the specific embodiment described in the patent specification.

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