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How Does Intellectual Property Work In Motorsport

Friday, 10 March 2023

In 2022, Aston Martin debuted an updated version of their AMR22 car.1The new design was sleek and novel, but also visibly similar to the design of Red Bull’s RB18 car.2 It is also worth mentioning that this new design debuted after a number of Red Bull staff members left Red Bull and joined Aston Martin in 2021.3 In a routine inspection, the FIA, Formula One’s governing body, approved the design, and found that it did not amount to a copying by Aston Martin of Red Bull’s car design4. While this did not develop into a dispute, this situation raised three significant questions. First, in what assets do motorsport teams have IP rights. Second, how can motorsport teams use the law to safeguard these rights. Finally, if these rights are infringed, what forms of recourse are available to these teams?

With the 2023 season of Formula One (“F1”) beginning on 5 March 2023, we decided to take a look at the role that intellectual property plays in motorsport.

Trade Marks

Article: A Guide To How Trade Marks Work In Formula One® by Nicholas Buckland & Ella Nawaro

In the UK, a trade mark can be protected if it is capable of distinguishing the specific goods/services covered from those of third parties, and if the mark itself can be represented on the register in a clear in precise manner. But what does this mean in practice, and what are the implications for motorsport?

This article discusses the implications of trade marks in the context of Formula One. Trademarks are badges “of origin, which, when successful, instantly conjures up the image of the owner.”5 Formula One Group, is a “collective of companies responsible for the management and promotion of Formula One and the World Championship,” and includes, among other entities, Formula One Licensing BV, which is the current owner of the Formula One trade marks.

It discusses the importance that trade marks hold and how protective F1 is over its own marks. Moreover, the article highlights some key questions pertaining to team rebranding, trade mark ownership, and elements that qualify for trademark protection. The article further discusses landmark trade mark disputes in motorsport, including Marussia Communications and Manor Grand Prix Racing, FIA World Rally Championship, Rich Energy and Whites Bikes, Ferrari and Mansory Design.

It looks into:

  • What are the most popular motorsport trade marks?

    • Individual drivers

    • Tracks

    • NASCAR

  • Who owns the F1 trade mark?

  • The importance that Formula One places over its own trade marks

  • What happens to a team's trade marks when it gets sold/later renamed?

  • Issues surrounding registration of trade marks in motorsport

    • Domain names

    • Trade mark ownership

  • What elements can be protected by a trade mark?

  • Possibility of sound trade marks with the advent of Formula E

  • Landmark trade mark disputes in motorsport

    • Marussia Communications and Manor Grand Prix Racing

    • FIA World Rally Championship

    • Rich Energy and Whytes Bikes

    • Ferrari and Mansory Design

  • Key Takeaways

This article can be accessed here.


ArticleHow Patents & Trade Secrets Are Utilized in Motorsport by Simon Casinader & Niall Lavery

Motorsport provides spectators with some of the most impressive examples of man-made machines on the planet with unbelievable feats in engineering, design and aerodynamics. However, the impressive aspects of human innovation used to produce such machines and the various features of the machines themselves are often not subject to the extensive portfolios of registered intellectual property (“IP”) protection that one would expect.

In particular, motorsport would appear to be a fertile breeding ground for IP protection (especially patents) with cutting edge technology, massive monetary investments and teams growing into multinational corporate ventures in their own right. Furthermore, given the fact thousandths of a second[2] can often provide a crucial edge in a race, it might even be more surprising that teams do not actively protect their innovative ideas that give them an advantage.

Often such limited IP protection is the result of motorsport’s respective sporting authorities aiming to increase competition and preventing one team from gaining a monopoly over a particular invention along with other reasons why patent protection is not being used extensively in motorsport.

The authors delve into:

  • Overview of How Patents and Trade Secrets Are Utilized In Motorsport

  • Is Patent Protection Actually Used In Motorsport

  • Can Motorsport teams utilise Trade Secrets To Protect Proprietary Information

This article can be accessed here.

Protecting Confidential Information

Article: Top Tips for Protecting Confidential Information and Trade Secrets in Motorsport by David Mitchell & Thomas Cleeve

For most businesses, protecting their confidential information is of the utmost importance. This is even more the case for those involved in the motorsports industry, where marginal gains are the difference between winning and losing.

As shown in the recent example with the Aston Martin-Red Bull dispute last season, the pace of technological development places a premium on the skills of those who are able to harness innovation for a competitive advantage. Misappropriation of confidential information by employees, workers or contractors cannot just adversely affect performance; it can have wider reputational harm and regulatory consequences. One only has to consider the  Spygate and Stepneygate[1] espionage controversies in the noughties involving alleged misappropriation and misuse of confidential information between the McLaren, Ferrari, and Renault F1 teams and more recently, the case of  Force India Formula One Team Limited v 1 Malaysia Racing Team SDN BHD[2], concerning a claim by  Force India against Lotus for misuse of confidential information and copyright infringement to do with specialist aerodynamic designs , to appreciate the consequences of not properly protecting confidential information.

This article discusses the differences between a company’s trade secrets and confidential information, the primary difference being that general confidential information is deemed to be within an employee’s skill and knowledge applied in the course of business, which may be drawn upon both during and after the employee’s tenure at the trade-secret-holding-company.

It provides a number of measures a company can take to preemptively protect its trade secrets without placing an unlawful restraint on trade, including but not limited to strengthening data security and adding special non-compete provisions to employee contracts. The article also provides a number of legal enforcement measures that companies may remedially use if they suspect that a former employee misused trade secrets or confidential information.

This article can be accessed here.

Haley Zenenberg & Manan Agrawal

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