Sunday, September 1, 2013

More Military Patent Litigation: How the Rights to the Phalanx CIWSWere Under Challenge

Last April, Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon has fulfilled the second of its three part contract with the Royal Australian Navy, in which the Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems on the RAN's various vessels will be upgraded to the Block 1B configuration. This should improve their efficiency in approaching and nearby targets, while also reducing the manpower required for maintenance of the CIWS.

The Phalanx CIWS was originally designed and developed by General Dynamics in the 70s mainly for use by the Royal Navy and the United States Navy on several of their surface combat ships. The CIWS on the U.S. Navy side were originally nicknamed 'R2-D2,' due to the barrel-shaped dome bearing a resemblance to the popular “Star Wars” droid. On the Royal Navy side, it was referred to as 'Daleks,' after the similarly dome-shaped robotic alien creatures from the UK sci-fi series “Doctor Who”.

Phalanx CIWS - ID 060605-N-6363M-004

The Phalanx CIWS has already gone through 3 major upgrades, with the latest one being the 1B configuration that Raytheon is currently rolling out as upgrades to existing installations. The core designs for the original CIWS have stood the test of time, with the upgrades merely providing increased capabilities as new technology permits (such as the migration from analog to digital radars).

Of interest, the U.S. Navy was embroiled in a patent dispute over one of the ammunitions used on the Phalanx CIWS a couple of decades ago. Back in the 80s, inventor Fritz K. Feldmann (who was in dispute with the U.S. Navy a couple of times over different ammunition-related IP rights before his passing in 2002) filed a suit claiming that the government stole his patents for a special ammunition that was meant for shooting down close-to-surface Exocet-type cruise missiles.

Feldmann's designs allows for more efficient shedding of the shell casing after leaving the gun barrel, making for a more accurate and flatter flight path for the projectile. This results in a higher velocity and greatly reduces the time it takes for the round to hit its target.

The suit alleges that Feldmann's designs were presented to the U.S Navy in 1971 and was turned over to the Olin Corp. and further developed for use on the Phalanx CIWS. However, the U.S. Navy denied the allegations, and in papers filed in the U.S. Court of Claims defended their position by stating that the shells they use were manufactured using designs that are common knowledge. The U.S. Navy has since declined to comment on the status of the case beyond what has stated on the legal papers that have been filed.

So what happened? We assume the case settled. The expense of this sort of patent litigation – which of necessity includes access to sensitive classified information about construction, deployment and maintenance – underscores again why due diligence on technology before acquisition is a good idea.


Source:  


Lance Gay (1982)- U.S. Stole Ammo Patent, Inventor Says. The Pittsburgh Pres. p.A-20

Image Credit:  

Phillip Morrill (http://www.navy.mil/view_single.asp?id=35469) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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