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Family-owned aerospace biz throws a wrench in Boeing IP lawsuit

Tool was allegedly used incorrectly to attach parts for the SLS and ISS

Boeing is being sued for allegedly stealing IP and ripping off tools built by family-owned company Wilson Aerospace to assemble components used for NASA's Space Launch System rocket and the International Space Station.

The 74-page complaint [PDF] filed with the Western District Court of Washington accused Boeing of stealing Wilson Aerospace's flagship product, the Fluid Fitting Torque Device (FFTD).

As a NASA contractor, Boeing was tasked with putting together NASA's SLS heavy-launch vehicle for its Artemis program to the Moon, but faced issues when trying to attach its engines. Boeing reportedly reached out to Wilson Aerospace in 2014 and worked together for two years to use its proprietary wrench to apply the right amount of torque needed to attach the engines.

But lawyers representing the biz said it was suddenly cut off after Boeing decided to cancel its contract with the company. In the time that both companies were working together, Wilson Aerospace claimed Boeing managed to gain access and download its IP to develop its own version of the FFTD.

"Despite its long-standing commitment to finding innovative solutions for Boeing's needs, Boeing rewarded Wilson's efforts by brazenly stealing Wilson's intellectual property relating to four iterations of Wilson's flagship product, the FFTD, along with other tools Wilson invented, violating a litany of intellectual property laws along the way," the lawsuit claims.

The alleged ripoff torque wrench crafted by Boeing, however, was said to be used incorrectly in the SLS and the ISS. Wilson Aerospace claimed mistakes in installing and using the tool led to leaks on the space lab and the rocket, delaying NASA's launch of its Artemis I mission last year and endangering lives.

"Worse, because Boeing covertly stole Wilson's intellectual property without receiving the full instructions on how to properly build, install, and use it, several of the aerospace and aviation products built by Boeing are pockmarked with critical safety flaws that put lives at risk. This includes the astronauts, pilots, crews, and passengers who come aboard without knowledge of the unsafe equipment and vehicles manufactured by or at the direction of Boeing."

An employee of Boeing allegedly sent an email to the company in September 2020 admitting to misusing its IP and creating "a safety concern for on-orbit hardware."

Wilson Aerospace has asked judges to force Boeing to destroy its alleged ripoff products, and compensate any profits and pay damages owed. Boeing was officially sued for copyright infringement, trade secret misappropriation, civil conspiracy, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and more.

A spokesperson for Boeing told The Register in a statement: "This lawsuit is rife with inaccuracies and omissions. We will vigorously defend against this in court."

Wilson Aerospace was founded in 1999 by David Wilson, Jr, in Boulder, Colorado. ®

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