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Seattle Federal Jury Rules Boeing Must Pay $72 Million to Zunum Aero in Trade Secrets Lawsuit

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A federal jury in Seattle has ruled that Boeing owes the unsuccessful electric aviation startup, Zunum Aero, $72 million for misappropriating trade secrets and interfering with business plans. The amount could potentially be increased if the judge determines that the misappropriation was willful and malicious. Zunum Aero’s founders and shareholders are pleased with the verdict, seeing it as a vindication after years of fighting. However, Boeing has stated that it disagrees with the jury’s decision and plans to challenge the judgment.

Zunum Aero, founded in 2013 and based in Bothell, Washington, received seed funding from Boeing and JetBlue’s technology ventures fund, as well as a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Clean Energy Fund. The startup made headlines in 2017 when it came out of stealth and announced plans to develop regional hybrid-electric and all-electric aircraft. Despite securing Safran Helicopter Engines as a partner, Zunum Aero faced financial challenges, leading to a reduction in operations.

In 2020, Zunum Aero filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court, accusing Boeing of stealing trade secrets and hindering its potential collaborations with Safran and attracting further investments. The case was moved to federal court and recently went to trial. Boeing argued that they had supported Zunum to the best of their ability, but the startup failed to meet deadlines and overstated its technological capabilities. The jury ultimately sided with Zunum on 11 claims of trade secret misappropriation and interference with business relationships, awarding a total of $81.23 million and $11.56 million, respectively.

District Judge James Robart had previously issued a summary judgment requiring Zunum Aero to repay $9 million in loans from Boeing, plus interest. This repayment will be deducted from the damages awarded to Zunum. Following the jury’s verdict, Robart will assess post-trial motions challenging the award and determine if any portion should be tripled under legal provisions for willful and malicious trade secret misappropriation. The outcome of this case has significant implications for both Zunum Aero and Boeing, highlighting the importance of protecting intellectual property in the competitive aerospace industry.

In conclusion, the federal jury’s decision in favor of Zunum Aero against Boeing showcases the complex nature of legal battles in the aviation sector. The case illustrates the importance of safeguarding trade secrets and respecting business relationships in the highly competitive field of electric aviation. Despite facing financial setbacks, Zunum Aero has emerged victorious in its fight against Boeing, securing a substantial monetary award. The judge’s upcoming rulings on post-trial motions will determine the final outcome of the case and potentially impact future interactions between startups and established aerospace companies. Both parties will continue to defend their positions as they navigate the legal aftermath of this high-stakes lawsuit.

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