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Stealth Tech Case Revived After More Than Two Decades

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 24, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The technology behind one of the most iconic shapes in American Airforce -- the Skunkwork's beaute B2 Bomber -- is back in court again after twenty-something years of legal wrangling. The question: who really developed stealth technology?

The factual issues of the case seem almost to pale against the legal issues of national security and the state secrets privilege, doctrines that have increasingly come under intense public scrutiny in recent years amidst allegations of abuse.

Zoltek Corp.

Zoltek Corporation is a St. Louis Company that recently became even more obscure with its takeover by Toray Industries Inc. for the sum of $584 million.

Back in 1984 and in 1988, Zoltek applied and obtained patents that dealt with a process of making carbon-fiber sheet filming more resistant to electricity. This coincidentally happened to be at the same time that the B2 Bomber was displayed to the public for the first time.

Courtroom Purgatory

The case has been in federal court purgatory between the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the appeals court that just happens to share the same building. Resistance from the government has been strong because the case involves the possible revelation of military secrets and military technology, both of which are hot button issues from the point of view of defense persons.

But in 2014, the Federal Claims judge invalidated the 1988 Zoltek patent. Then the appeals court reversed that decision because physical evidence in 1987 directly contradicted the conclusion that the scientists who built the B2 knew the effects temperature would have on the effectiveness of the coveted "stealth" technology.

Thus, the ultimate issue to be determine for Zoltek is whether the state's secret privilege is legitimate.

"The Interests of National Security"

Zoltek claims that Lockheed infringed on one of its patents when it developed panels for the now famous F-22 Raptor. The Air Force Director at the time Michael Donley penned a letter and submitted it to the court, cautioning that the information Zoltek now seeks for court "would assist other governments" in countering stealth technology.

So far, the stance of the government has been to invoke the military and state secrets privilege on the all stealth tech, contending that even highly guarded court revelations would be counter to the interests of national security.

The case will be sent back to the trial judge who must balance the issues.

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