Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Force India: motor racing becoming a breach of confidence competition

Soon it will be possible to do a one-day course on IP using nothing but examples from the world of motor racing. The Formula One casebook used to contain only Nichols Advanced Vehicle Systems v Rees, Oliver and others [1979] RPC 127, but it's grown (like all legal textbooks) in recent years. The bread-and-butter motor industry is the same, as I noted on my Blog Exemption blog not long ago (and of course Renault are embroiled in a strange story of industrial espionage involving electric vehicles which I'll write up soon).

Now Force India are claiming that an aerodynamics company who did work for them passed on information to the then-new (but distinctly retro) Lotus team about their designs. Fat lot of good it did Lotus - but then again, where might they have been without it? Anyway, this report from Crash.com tells the story and links though to another interesting piece by Tim Lowles of Collyer Bristow, asking why there aren't more IP disputes in F1. Perhaps because they have to devote what little time remains to actually racing? The Force India case is down for trial next January, and in the world of Formula One a lot might have happened by then.

Mr Lowles explains that the intellectual property system moves too slowly to be of much help in such a fast-moving field. It's also pertinent that the disputes over technology are breach of confidence ones: filing an application for a patent wouldn't produce protection within a useful timescale (chances are the rules would have changed and your invention would be useless by the time you got the patent) and making the details public is exactly the opposite of what's needed. However, when several years ago I was involved in a due diligence investigation of a F1 team I did see a patent, for part of the transmission - a novel clutch assembly, I think. But it will be a sad day when IP litigation replaces racing as the way to win in motor sport.

Of course, Team Lotus are also making a contribution to the trade marks chapter of the notional casebook, locked in a dispute over the name with Group Lotus which is backing Renault's F1 team. And Ferrari have just settled a really daft trade mark claim by Ford, noted elsewhere on this blog and on The Blog Exemption here.

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