The small Seattle company that developed the upward-swooping winglets now common on Boeing commercial airplanes and various business jets, Aviation Partners, is defending its patent on the devices against a lawsuit that giant European plane-maker Airbus filed last month.

Share story

The small Seattle company that developed the upward-swooping winglets now common on Boeing commercial airplanes and various business jets, Aviation Partners, is defending its patent on the devices against a lawsuit that giant European plane-maker Airbus filed last month.

Airbus worked with Aviation Partners from 2006 through last year, in an effort to adapt the winglet technology for its A320 family of jets.

In 2011, however, Airbus went with its own design, which it branded “sharklets,” and obtained a patent in Europe.

In December, Airbus filed suit in Texas seeking to invalidate Aviation Partners’ 1994 winglet patent..

Most Read Business Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

On Wednesday, Aviation Partners filed to dismiss the case.

The company’s “blended winglets” are the swooping tips installed on the wings of new Boeing 737s as well as on Dassault, Gulfstream, Hawker business jets. By minimizing drag, they decrease the plane’s fuel consumption, increase its range, and reduce noise.

Aviation Partners was founded in 1991 by Joe Clark, who had previously founded Jet Air, the first Learjet dealership in the Pacific Northwest, and later co-founded Horizon Air. The company currently has 13 employees.

Its winglets were first introduced as a performance-enhancement program for the Gulfstream II airplane and are now in service on more than 5,000 aircraft around the world.

In 1999, Boeing and API set up a joint venture to develop the winglet technology for Boeing jets. That partnership has since installed more than 3,500 sets of winglets on Boeing aircraft worldwide.

The Airbus suit filed in Texas seeks to fend off claims by Aviation Partners that the sharklet design infringes its 1994 patent and that Airbus should pay royalties. The filing states that such claims hinder its business plan to put the sharklets on its A320 fleet.

Aviation Partners’ Clark said in court papers that his engineers found a “striking similarity” between his company’s winglet design and the Airbus “sharklet” design.

He said two Airbus engineers named as inventors in the Airbus patent application, Michael Karwin and Frank Theurich, were involved in analyzing the use of Aviation Partners’ Blended Winglets on the A320.

Airbus declined to comment on the case Thursday.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com