In 2003 Virgin Atlantic introduced the “Herringbone design” seat layout in it’s “Upper Class” on which it had spent £50 million designing.
Contour, the Welsh seat manufacturer that built these seats for Virgin, sold the unusual design to other airlines. Virgin claiming that it owned the patent on the seat design took Contour to court to stop it making any more copies. Virgin’s argument was initially rejected, but the UK Court of Appeal recently upheld their patent application.
It is almost certain, that Virgin will file for an injunction against Contour to prevent it making any more of the seats. In parallel Virgin is taking legal action against US carrier Delta, Air Canada and India’s Jet Airways, all of whom bought the Herringbone seats from Contour. Hong Kong based Cathay Pacific is also facing similar legal action for buying similar seats from another manufacturer.
If Virgin’s legal action is successful all these airlines could be forced to remove these seats from the planes and refit them with other cabin seating, which would be extremely expensive and time consuming.
It is more likely that these affected parties will try and reach and out of court settlement with Virgin and pay many millions.
Update 1 – October 27
The court decision is available via this link
The patent documents are available via this link
Thanks to the knowledgeable folks at Airliners.net.