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Force India gets its day in court against Lotus
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Force India gets its day in court against Lotus
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Mar 2011   |  11:55 am GMT  |  32 comments

It has just been announced that Force India’s case against 1 Malaysia, the owner of Team Lotus, for infringement of intellectual property, will be heard in the High Court in London on January 16 2012.

Force India is also pursuing Lotus Technical director Mike Gascoyne personally as well as Aerolab, the wind tunnel where the two teams were working on cars when the alleged IP leakage is said to have occured.

This may prove to be Lotus’ third appearance in the High Court in 12 months, following the one starting two weeks today between Group Lotus and 1 Malaysia Group over the termination of the licence to use the Lotus name in F1. Depending on the outcome of that hearing, another case to settle the dispute as to who is the real Lotus in F1 may follow in the Autumn.

In a briefing note to journalists, Force India says that it “believes that Aerolab Srl. may have, during the course of its contract with the team, disclosed Force India F1 Team Ltd.’s intellectual property to 1 Malaysia Racing Team Ltd. and Mike Gascoyne, with whom Aerolab Srl. was at that time working through a sister company. The intellectual property was used in the development of the Lotus T127.”

There are also proceedings in the Italian court on this matter, with the same plaintiffs plus Tony Fernandes and the director of Aerolab, Jean Claude Migeot, a former F1 designer.

1 Malaysia did not have a great deal of time to design and develop a car. It was granted an entry for 2010 on 12 September 2009, just six months before the first race of 2010.

Gascoyne had used Aerolab for wind tunnel work when he was technical director of Spyker and then briefly Force India, before he and Vijay Mallya’s team went their separate ways.


But in November, Force India became concerned when Lotus issued a photo of its design in the wind tunnel and Force India felt that there was some cross over in the front wing design in particular. At the time they also noted that the Lotus was fitted with their wind-tunnel tyres.

At the time Gascoyne pointed out that the wind tunnel model was made by Fomtech and observed, “Some of the staff had been working on different projects. And whereas you cannot copy anything or take anyone else’s IP, you can use your expertise – and you will base that on what you know and what directions you know have been happening. That is what has happened.”

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32 Comments
  1. JJ MUPPET says:

    As every team employs photographers to spy on each other at the track and there are clear basic design trends when it comes to a stable rule environment I find it hard to believe that a picture in a wind tunnel is hard evidence? if I have understood the story more clearly from another website. Obviously if the accusations surround wind tunnel technicians or whomever there will be data which may tell a very similar story of the cars respective developments? Given Stepney and Coughlan did not spend a day in jail for the intellectual stupidity of the 2007 scandal, I doubt this will get very far.

    The old axiom that if every F1 car was painted the same colour the teams themselves could not tell them apart comes to mind. Glad that is not the case this year with the Mclaren and Renault and their interesting pods and exhausts.

    1. While the lay observer may think they all look the same I would bet that Adrian Newey could identify his front a-arm from any year against a collection of every team’s a-arms from that same year.

      That being said, I would imagine that there is a huge difference between making a front wing look the same, and making it perform the same. I am sure that Force India wouldn’t go through all this trouble for nothing.

      Also, while I don’t know the criminal laws in these country I would imagine that Force India aren’t interested in anything other than a monetary settlement.

      1. iceman says:

        Don’t know if you heard “5 Live Formula 1″ last week, but they interviewed Sam Michael and he made an interesting comment pertinent to your first point. He said that when he walks along the line of old cars in the Williams museum, it’s immediately obvious from looking at the cars which year Adrian Newey joined the team and which year he left. Apparently if anyone can’t see it then he knows they don’t understand F1 aerodynamics!

    2. RickeeBoy says:

      There is very little IP theft that can be proved.
      I think that the wheels developed by Aerolab for Force India can be proven not to belong to Lotus therefore I can see them getting stung for them. Now … is it Aerolab who gave them or did Lotus pay for a contract build …..

      Maybe Aerolab or Lotus to get done.

  2. Mark L says:

    F1 cars look so similar anyway and all teams use ideas from the others, you only have to look at the blown diffuser and the ducted rear wing from last year as two examples.

    Also, if someone like Mike Gascoyne has worked for other Teams before Lotus he is obviously going to take ideas with him, or at least be influenced by those ideas. It might even be argued, if he was involved in the design process, that the IP partly belongs to him anyway! So where do you draw the line?

    1. Obviously you take your ideas and experiences with you, what you don’t take is any specific details or data. Force India must feel like something specific has been taken, something more than what can be gleaned from a photo.

      And yes, they do all use the general ideas that they can get from the other teams, but what they don’t do is walk into McLaren’s factory and get the data required to make a properly working F-Duct.

      Ferrari saw a blown diffuser last season and it took them, with their vast resources and engineering capacity, a few races to get a rudimentary one working. Same goes for the F-Duct.

      I can’t imagine Force India would continue pursuing this if they didn’t know something was taken. If they lose in court it will make Force India look very bad.

    2. Mike says:

      The line is drawn in the fact that the business (i.e. the F1 Team) owns the Intellectual Property rights not individual employees. This prevents employees taking data with them if they choose to change employers.

      If external contractors or suppliers are used confidentiality agreements are usually drawn up, so one companies data is not shared with another.

  3. Tim. says:

    OK I am all confused is Tony in trouble on this one too, or is he going against the other Louts

  4. James says:

    It’s a tricky one to prove. They’d have to show a transfer of data or something.
    I guess this is one of the drawbacks of teams using outside resources.

  5. devilsadvocate says:

    Wow, didn’t figure force India to be the type to go looking for free lunches, much less some skeletons over a year old. It’s not like they were challenging FI for any points last year. This is just a classic opportunistic whack at the legal piñata to see if any money falls out. Shame on you vijay.

    1. Lockster says:

      “This is just a classic opportunistic whack at the legal piñata to see if any money falls out.”

      Nice, I nearly choked on my coffee! :)

  6. Gold Leaf says:

    A bit light on context, no? Depending on what is already in the moderation queue, we may see some commenters being misled to draw a particularly squinty view of this story.

    For some reason a paragraph is spent on Team Lotus court history, but nothing at all on Mallya’s and Kingfisher’s routine and almost pathological refusal to pay any bills, the numerous court actions and trips to the bailiffs that creditors routinely have to take to recover any payment from Force India. The actions that almost make it to court, and the other paddock deals made over numerous significant unpaid bills.

    And that must principally include the bewildering omission from this article of the current court judgement against Mallya for all the unpaid Aerolab bills for its design work from the period in question.

    Even now, a year later, payment has still not been concluded; If you don’t pay for the design work, you quickly start to lose a lot of rights as to what happens to it.

    Perhaps also a note on the steady stream of engineering talent that had chosen to migrate from Force India to be with Gascoyne/Fernandes at Team Lotus, may also have provided some insight into the mood music against which this action takes place.

    I think we could have done with perhaps less copy from the Force India press release, and used that space instead for an expanded examination of the intricacies of the business of contracting-out design work. What you gain from it, and what you lose control of.

    … Force India paid for expertise from Aerolab, capitalising on the knowledge, experience and resource that previous customers had paid for, and no complaints from Mallya for that head-start.
    Formula 1 does not require conventional ‘cleanroom’ designs; knowledge moves with engineers, and similarly knowledge learned by Aerolab from previous contracts can be legitimately applied to future designs.

    Unless Mallya has specific incriminating evidence of a balaclava’d Gascoyne illegally rummaging through Aerolab filing cabinets at night with a hot photocopier, then this nuisance suit must surely have zero chance of landing.

    1. Rich C says:

      Imho your post borders on Libel, and is at the very least unsubstantiated [saving the mods the trouble].
      And even *if true all that ‘stuff’ is irrelevant to this story anyway.

      1. Gold Leaf says:

        Just to save us all some time Rich, could you please pinpoint the libelous statement.

        Force India pay late, if at all, company accounts are filed late, there are numerous well documented court settlements against the team, everything from hospitality and motorhome providers through to test-drivers sending bailiffs to collect high court awards. They don’t much like paying for engines either.

        Kingfisher Airlines had to return aircraft to GE Commercial for non-payment. There were other issues with engine suppliers which kept other planes grounded. Pilots left unpaid.

        Force India did not pay Aerolab for their work, the high court ordered Mallya to pay up just over a million euros, plus damages, plus interest, that payment is now likely delayed yet again pending this latest legal wrangle.

        With that supporting evidence available in the public domain, I do not share any of your concern regarding potential for defamation.

        The reason it is very relevant, is that if you contract an architect for a design, fail to pay him, you don’t get to be upset if elements of that design appear in work for another customer.

        Let’s see what Aerolab say:
        “Aerolab/Fondtech vigorously denies any wrongdoing and has provided Lotus Racing with a full indemnity in relation to the claim.”

        A photo of a wind-tunnel wheel that you didn’t ever pay for … we are gonna need a bit more than that to make this case stick.
        So like I say, unless Mallya has found a binder of Force India drawings in a Norfolk copy-shop, I don’t see him getting much joy out of pursuing Team Lotus and all his ex-engineers.

        (James, a correction for the typo in your last paragraph, the model was supplied by FondTech, the parent company of Aerolab.
        Fomtech happens to be a fibre optics company entirely unrelated).

      2. Rich C says:

        Yes, yes, you make all sorts of wonderful but unsubstantiated statements. Anyone can make up stuff and then say “prove it ain’t so.” That’s called attempting to prove a negative, which isn’t possible. So if you have proof lets see some links.

      3. legend337 says:

        Great comment Gold Leaf. You are correct, there is much information in the public domain regarding FI’s late payments and this provides a very real motive for their pursuit of these legal actions which appear frivilous.

  7. James Mc says:

    Cant see what the point is of Force India taking this as far as court. Last years Lotus wasnt exactly a ground breaking car by any means, it certainly didnt set the world alight. They couldnt have nicked that much information otherwise the Lotus would have been closer to the Force India or further up the grid. Any information that may or may not have been passed over must be well out of date by now anyway!

    All seems bit petty.

    Maybe VJ Mallya needs some money to fund his failing airline?

    1. Mark V says:

      Petty indeed. Makes me think this saber rattling is just more fun and games to these guys, all part of competing with each other than sorting out anything dire as far as business and livelihoods are concerned.

  8. Paul H says:

    There must be more to this story than the picture? MG worked for Force India previously so a similar wing is no surprise. Lotus had to start somewhere so I daresay there were elements taken from a number of cars to give them a starting base point. Every team steals ideas from one another, that is simply part and parcel of F1, always has been and always will be. Just look at the engineers and mechanics checking out each others cars during testing season. The use of the wind tunnel tyres seems neither here nor there, what illicit benefit could be gained from their use? The tyres are standard spec are they not?

    1. devilsadvocate says:

      Exactly, I wonder how much Adrian Newey would have to spend in court if he took a similar attitude as FI seems to be taking here.

      Also in regards to the article James, if aerolab put FI windtunnel tires on te tf127, shouldn’t they be suing aerolab? That might be tough as an earlier poster pointed out the glaring omission in your article of FIs less than stellar financial relations with aerolab.

  9. Andy c says:

    I wouldn’t mind being force indias legal team. They handle more cases that heathrow terminal 5.

  10. Rich C says:

    If MG had a ‘photographic’ memory could he be sued for IP infringement by everyone he ever worked for?

  11. Bec says:

    The contract between Lotus and Aerolab gives Lotus full indemnity from any action taken against them by Force India.

  12. Chris-W says:

    Man, is it time for the season to start….

  13. f1mikey says:

    Change your clock already!!

  14. Sebee says:

    If Lotus Renault crashes with a Renault Lotus in a GP do you think they will sue each other for damages?

    Should Massa sue Renault for Missed Championship Damages?

    Should we fans all sue Schumi for not winning last year and not satisfying us?

    Should we sue JA for making us feel (with this story) like this two week start delay will be harder for us all to get through than we thought?

  15. Kinda late date, aye? Not familiar with the British court system myself, but I guess that’s the way things work in the UK.

    Anyway, I think it’s a bit risky on the court’s part because it’s not really known whether these two teams will be around in January 2012. Both Tony aka the-good-do-win and VJ aka the-stylish-singh-in-golden-shades are heavily involved in aviation and with these “funny” oil prices air travel industry may suffer yet another stroke. No money, not funny – no teams, no court date. At least alcohol will never go out of fashion, which is good news for VJ.

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  17. Tim. says:

    This thread has gotten a bit off center.

  18. Glen D says:

    James….change your main picture…you’ll have Ford after you!!!

  19. Guy says:

    Blimey,this has been and continues to be ( to me) so confusing..any chance James ( or anyone else) of a concise paragraph/explanation to help out? Sort of “Lotus for Dummies”……

    1. Sebee says:

      Once upon a time, there were a few teams with a thought process that no press is bad press. They had lawyer friends and wanted to throw some work his way. Since they are mostly small teams and ignored most of the season, they decided to be in the press off-season Max Mosley style. Only problem, they are not nearly as good at it as Max, and their battles for name or design are of little interest to us. So much so that we will hardly remember or care the minute we see a lap turned in anger, say around the 26th of March or so.

      This whole thing is about as important in the big picture as the Baby Gaga ice cream, and Lady Gaga threatening legal action against it. But that story is for that other website, jamesallenonicecreamflavours.com
      And that my friends is how you bring Lady Gaga into an F1 conversation. Thankfully few to none are reading this article.

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