Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. America late on Monday filed a countersuit against Canadian regional jetmaker Bombardier, which earlier alleged Mitsubishi poached its employees and trade secrets. The countersuit accuses Bombardier of "illegal anticompetitive behavior" by trying to prevent the free movement of workers to its MRJ jet program.
Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. America late on Monday filed a countersuit in federal court in Seattle against Canadian regional jetmaker Bombardier, which earlier alleged Mitsubishi poached its employees and trade secrets.
Montreal-based Bombardier filed suit in October, claiming that about 92 employees were recruited by Mitsubishi Aircraft to work on its long-delayed Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ). Bombardier said some of the workers, before they left Bombardier, illicitly emailed to their personal accounts documents including trade secrets that could help certify the Japanese plane.
In its countersuit, the U.S. subsidiary of Mitsubishi Aircraft alleges that Bombardier engaged in “illegal anticompetitive behavior” by trying to prevent the free movement of workers to its jet program.
The first planes from the new MRJ family of 69- to 88-seat regional jets are currently in flight test at Moses Lake in Eastern Washington. With jobs there and at Mitsubishi’s Seattle-based partner, AeroTEC, which is working on U.S. certification of the airplanes, the program employs about 600 people in Washington state.
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The MRJ’s planned entry into service is now 2020, seven years later than originally planned. It faces competition from Bombardier’s 78- to 104-seat CRJ jets as well as regional jets made by Embraer of Brazil.
Mitsubishi Aircraft spokesman Jeff Dronen said Bombardier attempted to coerce the company and its partner AeroTEC not to hire its employees. He said it even pressured the Japanese parent company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), in a letter implicitly threatening the supplier agreement MHI has with Bombardier.
Dronen said that Bombardier’s efforts impeded the MRJ program and could affect the industry more broadly by “chilling the freedom of movement of individuals to pursue opportunities at other organizations.”
Mitsubishi denies that the Bombardier employees it hired brought with them any documents with trade secrets. Dronen said both an internal audit and an examination of the company’s computer servers by an outside forensic expert failed to reveal any of the documents cited by Bombardier on the system.
“We are confident these files weren’t ever transferred to the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company,” said Dronen, adding that the skills, knowledge and experience carried in the heads of the people it hired “are not trade secrets.”
“Our position is that Bombardier’s allegations of misappropriation lack factual or legal merit,” Mitsubishi Aircraft said in a statement, while countering that Bombardier’s “threats” and its October lawsuit constitute an effort “to impede the progress of the development of the MRJ and ultimately, to delay the MRJ from entering the market.”
“Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation will not be intimidated by this behavior,” the company said. “We stand behind our employees, including those who have been wrongly implicated in Bombardier’s groundless allegations. We are pleased to have many ex-Bombardier employees working on the MRJ program at a time when their former employer is reducing its workforce.”
Simon Letendre, a spokesman for Bombardier, described this attempt to recast the dispute in Mitsubishi’s favor as “misguided and disingenuous.”
“The facts of this case plainly show an unlawful attempt by Mitsubishi Aircraft to obtain and use Bombardier trade secrets to advance the certification of its MRJ aircraft,” he said, adding that this is illegal and that “Bombardier will vigorously enforce its rights.”
In December, Mitsubishi asked the court to dismiss Bombardier’s original lawsuit. The case is still pending. Mitsubishi’s filing of the countersuit ratchets up the acrimony between the rival jetmakers.