Force India claim Lotus stole IP

Posted on

| Written by

Force India has begun a court action against Lotus which, it claims, used Force India’s intellectual property in designing its 2010 car.

Force India issued a statement in which it drew attention to the fact that it recently paid money to Lotus’s chassis builder Aerolab, one of the companies named in the suit.

Here is the statement in full:

The Force India F1 Team confirms it has instigated UK civil proceedings against 1Malaysia Racing Team SDN BHD (a Malaysian company), 1Malaysia Racing Team (UK) Limited (Lotus Racing’s parent companies), Michael Gascoyne and Aerolab SRL. Force India also confirms that a complaint for disclosure of confidential information was filed in December 2009 with the competent authorities in Italy and that investigations are being conducted.

Force India believes that Lotus Racing, via its use of Aerolab and Fondtech facilities and data, has utilised and benefited from the use of Force India F1 Team’s intellectual property, including components and tyres exclusively licensed by Bridgestone to the Force India F1 Team, on its wind tunnel model design for the current Lotus T127 chassis without permission from the Force India F1 Team.

Force India states these are very serious claims and therefore it would not be taking such action if it could not provide supportive evidence.

Additionally Force India would like to clarify that any action between Aerolab and Force India for undue termination of contract is now being addressed by the courts. Force India confirms it paid approximately one million euros in autumn 2009 to secure the payment claimed by Aerolab and it is now for the competent courts to decide whether, indeed, this outstanding amount should be paid to Aerolab given the seriousness of these current allegations.

For reference, the civil court action documentation is in the public domain and can be accessed via the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division.

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

24 comments on “Force India claim Lotus stole IP”

  1. This cannot be good at all for a new team. They need the best publicity they can get to obtain sponsors and a good budget. This could really hurt Lotus if it is dragged out.

    Don’t Gascoyne and VM have some history from their time together at FI?

    There’s something I don’t understand. Was the “intellectual property” allegedley taken from this year’s FI’s designs, 2009’s or perhaps earlier? The cars have changed radically each year since 2008. If the complaint for disclosure of confidential information was filed at the end of 09 I’m assuming it is for this year’s car unless there was a build up to this.

    They must have some good evidence on their side I guess and I wonder just how hard Lotus can fight this.

    1. The intellectual property I think was a wind tunnel model from 2009. I think I read it somewhere.

  2. So force India have someone else build their chassis, and lotus used the same company, who used parts of the design for the force India car, so they’re suing both companies.
    I’d that’s what is happening or have missed the point completely?

    1. Force India builds its own chassis and has done so ever since Jordan became Midland (before then all non-prototypes were outsourced to DPR Composites). However, it had a partnership with Formtech for windtunnel services to complement its work at Brackley.

      FIF1 are alleging that Formtech has/had one of its VJM02 windtunnel models (following a separate dispute) and used IP from it to develop a windtunnel model for Lotus. The team may have incorporated IP onto its F1 car from that model without necessarily knowing that its provenance was suspect. As far as I can see, that’s the core of this matter – but until I find the Chancery records which Force India is talking about, I can’t say for certain.

  3. From GPUpdate yesterday:

    “Lotus Racing has been joined as a co-defendant in civil proceedings which are principally between Force India and Aerolab/Fondtech,” a Lotus spokesperson explained to on Tuesday morning.

    “These proceedings do not allege any wrongdoing on the part of Lotus Racing. Aerolab/Fondtech vigorously denies any wrongdoing and have provided Lotus Racing with a full indemnity in relation to the claim.”

    I doubt anything will come back on Lotus, Aerolab are the ones who have (allegedly) integrated FI IP in the design of the Lotus.

    It would be like somone suing you for having a counterfeit watch. Not going to happen, they sue the watchmaker.

    1. “It would be like somone [sic] suing you for having a counterfeit watch. Not going to happen, they sue the watchmaker.”

      As I understand it, due to generally f****d up IP legislation around the world, this is not the case. You could be taken to court over purchasing counterfeit goods. Just like if you download a music track “illegally”, you can be liable.

      I admit that, unless it can be proved they knew about the infringement, they should not be held liable, but that’s not the case. If they benefited from the infringement, Lotus will probably be forced to pay royalties of some description for the time they used it, and may be forced to redesign their car to remove the infringing parts. Unfortunately that’s how the cookie crumbles.

      1. Keeping in mind Gascoyne was at FI and now heads the technical side at Lotus, i suppose it is a fair guess that he must have been aware of something like that.

        The big question is, is it true, or just a money issue?
        FI might just be pulling Lotus in, so they (Lotus) will push Aerolab/Fondtech to drop the case, while at the same time making life more difficult for a new competitor (Lotus). If proven true, this would mean Lotus is in danger of being in violation of the FIA rules on being a constructor!

    2. Lotus’ original front wing did look suspicously simular to something Force India had raced. It’s gooed that Aerolab/Fondtech have decided to protect Lotus. Hopefully this means Lotus’ schedule and development etc won’t be too affected.

      1. In looking around, a lot of the front wings look *similar* .

        FI from 2009:

        Lotus wind tunnel model for 2010:

        Similar, yes. The same? I don’t see it, no, not the same.

        But really a *lot* of wings look similar:

        Is FI planning on suing every other team presenting a similar-looking front wing, I wonder … ?

        1. It is completely ok if they “look” similar as long as each team came up with the design independantly (i.e. without direct access to engineering drawings and dimensions). If you look at a competitor and more or less copy their design (assuming patents don’t cover the design), then it doesn’t really matter. The problem comes from insider leaks or breaches of confidentiality agreements.

    3. There is another factor to consider. Due to FIA regulations, fielding a car with another team’s IP can lead to a team being excluded, even if it hadn’t got the foggiest idea it was carrying another team’s IP. The possible lack of knowledge on Lotus’ part prevents Force India from using the FIA courts to pursue a case under Article 151 c) with any confidence, but proving a transfer of IP in a civil court would enable a relatively quick case under Article 1 after such a case was won. Potentially, Lotus could be thrown out for this, even if the courts prove that it was impossible for them to have known about any IP infringement.

      Of course, if Force India lose these cases it will come out looking like the biggest bunch of fools in the paddock and a lot worse off due to the volume of cases, so it’s a somewhat scary time for F1 either way.

  4. I don’t like Vijay at all. Lotus are however many seconds off the pace and their car does not look that much like the Force India car to me.
    I did read Vijay is after Mike due to some disagreement when he was at FI.
    Don’t think Vijay should be chasing him down like this.

    1. Nice angle. There really is no point to FI suing Lotus in terms of their relative performance, so why do it? If Lotus are guilty, then it would be to punish the perpetrator, but Vijay isn’t exactly short of cash and what’s he going to be spending funding the case? If there was an issue the matter should have been handed over to the proper crime investigation authorities (CSI: F1 perhaps :-P)

      1. The civil courts are the proper crime investigation authorities in this case, since at least part of the alleged cluster of offences falls outside the FIA’s remit. The FIA can always be asked to provide sporting penalties if these prove appropriate.

  5. Seems to me an awful lot of FI’s efforts here relate to courts deciding if Aerolab gets the money FI still owe them, or of FI gets to slide on the outstanding balance simply because FI has brought intellectual property suits against Aerolab and Lotus.

    Like this: I owe Keith a million quid for blog services he has provided me. I terminate the contract after receiving services and make no further payments. Keith then provides similar blog services for another party. Susequently I sue Keith and the other party for intellectual property violations because the services he provided the other party were similar, and in the process ask the courts to relieve me of the outstanding debt.

    If I didn’t make payment in full, how can I responsibly claim intellectual property on anything that was developed? Having not paid in full for it, and having terminated the contract unilaterally, do I still have a valid claim against Keith for violation of intellectual property laws?

    I hope the courts are careful with this decision, as it will set a precedent for future inyellectual property suit decisions.

    1. Intellectual property is the possession of its creator unless otherwise transferred. Even if there was IP generated in the windtunnel (which Formtech may or may not have been able to claim for itself depending on contract), there will have been IP brought to the windtunnel in the first place by Force India’s designers. That IP and the interactions between it would be Force India’s.

      If any IP from the original offering combined with the new IP, then there could potentially be a claim on that from Force India too – not for possession but for use of IP outside the agreed contract. Should any part of that combination have ended up in the Lotus windtunnel model, then there would be a potential IP violation claim.

      Even if it turns out Force India have made no payment whatsoever, Formtech would still be required to handle the IP received and substantially affected by Force India responsibly. If it’s ended up in Lotus’ hands, that would be a breach of responsibility.

      Whether the breach of IP would be sufficient to refund the monies in dispute (or possibly exceed it, given that McLaren was fined $100m for IP violations back in 2007 by the FIA) is an open question. However, the IP fully generated by Formtech and thus legitimately providable to Lotus is not the full extent of the IP Formtech would have had.

      IP is a really messy area and the courts will need to be extremely careful. Probably just as well the FIA doesn’t have to sort this one out… …yet.

  6. “competent authorities in Italy”

    That must be the biggest oxymoron .. or maybe its just morons ..

  7. This seems a little bit of throwing the toys out of the pram by Force India. If both teams have used the same company for the design work, isn’t some of that own company’s ‘intellectual property’ going to appear on both designs?
    And if Gascoyne was at Force India and then at Lotus, he isn’t suddenly going to forget what he designed at the previous team (or the one before that), especially if it was a design that worked. As a designer, isn’t everything with his signature his ‘intellectual property’?

    1. Formtech isn’t a design company, but a windtunnel provider. Both Force India and Lotus design their own cars but have/had outsource other elements of their operations. You make a good point about Mike Gascoyne being entitled to use what he remembers at different teams and this could prove significant.

      Intellectual property usually passes to the employer if created in a company. No F1 team is going to allow an individual to keep IP for a team’s design unless the individual in question has rock-solid ties to the team because otherwise breaches of FIA regulations and ensuing penalties for multiple teams become nearly inevitable.

  8. I seem to recall that when Lotus released pictures of their model in the wind tunnel last year, Force India commented then that they thought it was like theirs and even that some of the hand writing on the model was from one of their people.

    Sorry I can’t remember the exact details and I don’t have time to search for it at the moment.

  9. In 2007 we had a similar issue like this when the Mclaren team have stole Ferrari design or something. It’s a shame that it is happening again.

  10. The Genuine Jim
    2nd June 2010, 17:20

    Joe Saward’s post about this makes for very interesting reading. Check it out.

  11. 3 June 2010

    The main thing now Force India must gears up the team in its own popular way in making the team highly interactive with fans throughout the world. I joined Force India F1 Team at Facebook but the administrator to that page not so active in updating news and the related article/talk about the team seems it’s not the major reference site for fans to interact.

    Back to your point about espionage and IP issues done by Lotus Team on Force India F1 Team, it’s totally depends on the team owners to seriously fight back the case and put it back on the right track. As an ardent fan to Force India F1 Team, once the team owners not so interested in manipulating the issues by means of getting support from fans, so what we all can do!

    1. The main reference site for fans to interact is at Force India’s own social network, Clubforce. It largely uses Twitter and Facebook (in that order) to include those people who aren’t using Clubforce.

Comments are closed.