— Jessica Gutierrez Alm, Attorney
As if economy airplane seating wasn’t bad enough, Airbus recently filed a patent application for vertically stacked passenger seating. The proposed seating arrangement is intended to make more efficient use of cabin space. What’s better than someone’s legs pushing into the back of your chair? Someone’s legs dangling above your head.
The patent application was filed in March, but became publicly available on October 1. It seems I’m not the only one concerned with Airbus’s apparent willingness to treat passengers like cargo in a shipping container. These drawings from the actual patent application were all over social media after news outlets began reporting on them.
At this point, the design is only in a patent application, and still has to go through the patent prosecution process at the USPTO to determine whether it is patentable. Even if Airbus does obtain a patent from this application, it is worth noting that Airbus, like many companies, files hundreds of patents every year, and obtaining a patent is no guarantee that the design will ever be implemented. In fact, Airbus stated that the design is not necessarily ever going to be implemented, and that the application is merely to preserve an idea.
Airbus also recently filed a patent application for an aircraft with the ability to travel from London to New York in one hour. Of course that application hasn’t received quite as much press.
The backlash over the stacked seating arrangements had me wondering about how a company’s image can be affected by its patent filings. Most patent applications become publicly viewable and accessible online while still pending in the patent office. Large companies, and particularly technology driven companies, file hundreds or even thousands of patent applications every year. Many go unnoticed, but a particularly noteworthy invention can bring a lot of attention—be it wanted or unwanted. Once someone noticed Airbus’s new passenger arrangement, the patent images quickly spread on social media. As a result, how many passengers will remember these images when boarding their next Airbus plane?
Before patent documents were so readily accessible online and social media allowed for rapid and widespread thought sharing, the public response to a company’s patent filings was likely not a concern. Airbus’s unpopular drawings perfectly illustrate that from a modern branding perspective, it may be worth considering possible public reaction before filing a patent application, particularly where the invention is unlikely to come into fruition.