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Posted on January 13, 2012

We’ve had a big response to the story earlier this week about the new ride height control system on the Lotus Renault using tiny cylinders on the end of the pushrods.

There were many questions from readers about whether Lotus could patent the idea.

A senior F1 engineer has kindly stepped in to clear up the question of patenting F1 technical ideas for readers.

His explanation is below:

“The lack of patents in F1 is quite simple. It’s because if a team takes out a patent on a design, that then locks in an advantage the other teams cannot access. Therefore the other teams will simply vote it out through the FIA Technical Working Group process by the end of the season in question.

“By keeping a new design in the game, a team can gamble that they can do a better job on a design than another team. Examples like seamless shift gearbox & inertia dampers are good ones. If these were patented by F1 teams, then they would have been wiped out.”

Meanwhile it appears that not only does the FIA consider the Lotus idea legal, but other teams including Ferrari are already working on their own version. It will be one of the must have gizmos at the start of the 2012 season.

Lotus has applied for some patents on ideas like using mercury inside dampers, but this could be in order to sell the technology to a wider market rather than grab an initiative in F1.

* An update on the Lotus ride height system: Giorgio Piola, who broke the story earlier this week has written that Mercedes are also working on a version of it. Bob Bell moved from Renault to Mercedes in the last 12 months and has hired one of the engineers behind the system.

Mercedes have announced that they will be late releasing the new car, missing the first test and the speculation is that the delay is due partly to this system but also partly to a delay in the complicated F Duct front wing, which they tried out in practice in Japan.

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  1.   1. Posted By: Carlos Marques
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 6:29 pm 

    “…the other teams will simply vote it out through the FIA Technical Working Group process **by the end of the season **in question.”

    But if the idea is really good, you can get a patent and then block others for a FULL season- enough to win a world championship, and then move on to other (non-obsolete, legal) ideas. Brawn GP is the perfect example of this concept in their first year. The others were catching-up by the end of the season- imagine if they were legally blocked from doing so…Button would have won all the races that year…

    [Reply]

    Matthew Reply:

    Yes but the FIA could rule it illegal by the next Grand Prix – there is nothing to say you could run it for a season.

    [Reply]

    Luca Reply:

    not sure you would be able to really get a rival to cease using a copied patented design as they race in 15 old countries, so you have to take it up with each country possibly rather than just one or two – look at Apple vs Samsung – those patent cases are going on all over the world and can be appealed and counter sued etc…

    By the time the ruling came, it would be 5 season old technology – and thats before you get into costs – some teams simply wouldn’t be able to fight the legal battles as it is…

    [Reply]

    Jamie Cottage Reply:

    Patents take years to be processed, 3+ seasons could easily have passed before being granted.

    [Reply]

    Hisham Akhtar Reply:

    And that’s good how??

    [Reply]

    Rich C Reply:

    No, F1 moves much faster than RL! It sometimes takes *years to get a patent through the process. That’s why you see so many things labeled “patent pending.”
    And it takes a whole raft of patent attorneys and engineers to do it up right.

    [Reply]

    K Reply:

    Nothing guarantees whatever innovative design you have will end up being competitive.

    The front-exhaust from last year is a very good and recent example. So what’s the point in applying for a patent?

    [Reply]

    Philip Reply:

    Publishing a patent takes 1.5 years, so until then people can use it without knowingly infringing. Then when the patent is out there it might still take some time before it is recognized and you can start suing people

    [Reply]


  2.   2. Posted By: David Mansell
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 7:18 pm 

    The patent lifecycle is also pretty long, especially if you consider the time between initial application through review, getting it approved and granted, starting litigation against an infringer and getting the court to do something. Ideas come and go pretty fast in F1, quite a lot could have been invested in patents around double diffusers, blown diffusers, forward facing exhausts, etc. (to think of just a few recent innovations) which would have been a complete waste of time and money as they are now banned or otherwise made irrelevant by the regulations.

    [Reply]

    CTP Reply:

    …and patents become public knowledge, so perhaps there’s the danger of them being ruled illegal (or the rules changed [to prevent an arms race]) before they can even be applied?

    [Reply]

    daphne Reply:

    Correct – it is one thing to “get” the patent, it is an entirely different (and very much more expensive)kettel of fish “defending” that patent.

    [Reply]

    F1Fan Reply:

    That’s the more relevant issue. Patents make sense for manufacturers hoping to commercialize the invention. But for F1 facing, the time to obtain a patent, and the disclosure requirements negate the protection that patents afford.

    F1 teams instead go the trade secret route, which is contingent on non-disclosure, but provide remedies for misappropriation, as was evidenced with the Ferrari-McLaren IP fiasco.

    [Reply]


  3.   3. Posted By: Adam T
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 7:20 pm 

    im surprised that more teams dont do it given that there is probably a good chance that it will not be allowed the season after. McLaren and their F-duct would have been a good example of this

    [Reply]

    Dxs Reply:

    yeah i agree.. i feel that renault/lotus think that they don’t have the resources/ability to compete with the big teams, so they go for radical design elements (which is higher risk) in hope that they will pay off.

    I dont think Renault can be a back to back contender, like rbr mcl or fer. So why not go for radical designs and patent so you can secure a season.

    [Reply]

    verstappen Reply:

    I think a patent still leaves open too much opportunities

    [Reply]

    Adam T Reply:

    but by patenting technology on certain things this would not just be important for a team, but more importantly for the car manufacturer

    [Reply]

    Dan Reply:

    You have to consider that the other teams aren’t literally copying the design, they’re just making their own bespoke version, that could be much different in design for the same effect…

    [Reply]


  4.   4. Posted By: devilsadvocate
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 7:32 pm 

    “Button would have won all the races that year…”

    Except the races that RBR won and challeneged while still running the single diffuser RB5 we can assume those wouldn’t have been the only ones.

    [Reply]

    devilsadvocate Reply:

    by the way my original comment above was intended as a response to the poster in comment #1, apparently my fingers are too clumsy to use an iPhone, any chance you will ever launch a mobile version of the site James? Have to have the eyesight of a scout sniper to hit the right button to post a comment when it sends you to a normal format.

    [Reply]

    Doug Reply:

    Get a Samsung Galaxy S2…it’s easy then! :-)

    [Reply]


  5.   5. Posted By: Pani Tsouris
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 7:34 pm 

    Hang on a minute guys, I think we are missing one very important thing about patents.
    Unless I am wrong, I was under the impression that if you patent a design or product. You have to make your design and information available and accessible to the general public (in this case, the F1 teams).
    Rivals could then simply copy the principle without affecting the patent regulations. That is why patents are not common in F1.

    Please let me know if I am wrong on this one?
    Thanks

    [Reply]


  6.   6. Posted By: Brian
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 7:50 pm 

    Remember that patent filings are public. So other teams would know exactly how the new invention is intended to work.

    And then they could possibly engineer a similar solution that does not infringe on the patent.

    So it’s better to let the other teams struggle to figure out how to replicate the new invention. All while the inventor is figuring out whether it’s worth the trouble.

    [Reply]


  7.   7. Posted By: Andrew
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 8:56 pm 

    Can you imagine the legal wars that would erupt over the course of a year if patents were introduced? I can’t imagine how many teams would be arguing about multiple patents. It would be continual drama taking away the focus from the racing I’d imagine. Then you’d surely end up with continual spill-over from prior seasons to new seasons! Just my two cents worth.

    [Reply]


  8.   8. Posted By: Kevin Irwin
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 9:15 pm 

    They have patented it because of the mercury, no other fluid meets the same characteristics so they know even if someone else comes up with a similar design the chances of it operating as efficiently are in question.

    [Reply]


  9.   9. Posted By: Brad
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 9:17 pm 

    That you actually took the time and effort to check it out, as you promised in that response… It’s why we love your website JA!

    [Reply]


  10.   10. Posted By: Atef Girgis
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 10:01 pm 

    Have a look at the copies of the iphone & how many times apple has gone to the courts to stop the copies & they are still coming out
    In F1 , the design would be out of date by the time the first court case was over

    [Reply]


  11.   11. Posted By: Marty
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 10:49 pm 

    Nice piece James as always – thanks. Come on then, what’s the likelihood of seeing you on the F1 forum this year, or better still, the full show! ;-) Any news on who will join you in the comm. box?

    [Reply]


  12.   12. Posted By: Aligner
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 11:01 pm 

    Whilst the points about the regulations and things being ruled out might be valid the timeframe is the killer. I hold 6 patents (not in motor racing) and the fastest grant was three years after the application was made, far too slow for F1. I’ve worked with academics who say they now refuse to work with F1 teams as there is no proper technology development since the moment you see an advantage you bang it on the car – different to what would happen in ‘real-life’ where you optimise (and patent) your product BEFORE you release it. I suspect the patented stuff that you’ll see in the next few years will all be in the V6 engines because there is time AND because the makers want to get some benefit from their developments in their road car business.

    [Reply]


  13.   13. Posted By: mark
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 11:44 pm 

    Any news James on mclarens reponse to lotus, and their own development of an active ride system?

    [Reply]


  14.   14. Posted By: RichyS
        Date: January 13th, 2012 @ 11:59 pm 

    Weren’t McLaren’s J dampers patented?

    Though my recollection is cloudy, it could have been that the idea was already patented and McLaren procured an exclusive license from the inventor. Can anyone else remember the is and outs?

    [Reply]

    David Reply:

    Yes, correct. Apparently McLaren obtained license from engineers at Cambridge:

    http://www.f1technical.net/features/10586

    http://scarbsf1.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/lotus-renault-gp-fluid-inerter/

    Great thread!

    [Reply]


  15.   15. Posted By: Stephen Kellett
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 12:58 am 

    By not patenting these systems the team that invents them is missing a trick.

    What they should do:
    1) Patent the idea.
    2) Give a royalty free license to all the competing teams.
    3) Charge the road car industry a royalty for use of any patents that apply to road cars. Etc for other industries.

    I’m surprised these bright folks haven’t worked this out. Very surprised.

    [Reply]

    Liam in Sydney Reply:

    I doubt it. No team will pay the licensing fee.

    They will instead just figure it out anyway through trail and error and the odd bit of inter-team word of mouth. You would be surprised at the smarts of these rocket science gurus they have at their disposal. As long as a team like Renault/Lotus gets the initial head start for a few months, that’s all it takes to stay ahead of the curve.

    I think this technology is not that hard to figure out. So all the manufacturers will be able to use and adapt this fairly soon. As for road cars, this technology probably doesn’t need to be used, except maybe a road worthy track car.

    [Reply]

    Stephen Kellett Reply:

    A royalty free license has no license fee.

    Any team can afford to license it. It costs nothing.

    [Reply]

    Graham Reeds Reply:

    I thought this was the case to begin with.

    [Reply]


  16.   16. Posted By: Aligner
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 1:02 am 

    I’ve had a quick look at F1 teams patents (you can search patents free in lots of places). Very interesting. Mclaren automotive has ‘loads’ of patents but most of these relate to the sportscar side of the business – couldn’t see much F1 related stuff. Williams Grand Prix had a couple of F1 related things – couldn’t find anything under Williams F1. Found one for Jordan Grand Prix – a clutch patent. Tried Red Bull Racing and got no hits – lots for Red Bull but mostly tin-openers or random marketing stuff like ‘gates’ for air racing. Didn’t bother with Mercedes or Honda as impossible to sift.

    Basically for the pure racing teams – there are virtually no patents, those teams with spin-off activities are certainly getting more value from the patent system.

    Just a few more facts to go into the mill.

    Aligner

    [Reply]

    James Allen Reply:

    Cool. Thanks for doing that

    [Reply]


  17.   17. Posted By: Kevin
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 2:00 am 

    I’ve attempted to apply for two patents in Australia. The more complicated the idea (mechanically, electrically etc) the less protected it is commercially. That’s because a ‘copy’ of it only needs to be 10% different to not infringe upon the original patent. . Thus the must effective ideas to copyright are the simplist. That’s what was explained to me by a lawyer.
    The FIA would have no interst in allowing a team to gather an advantage by having a patent. The team with the patent would win almost every race only to have their invention banned next season. Another team would get a new patent on another idea that season and so on and so forth. The current system of secret development and season development works best from a sporting point of view. Unfortunatly there seams to be little technology in the sport for commercial application so again no motivation for patents. Especially when your idea must detailed in its entirety to apply for the patent,as everybody can see how it’s designed.
    The other problem is jurastictional, if a patent was taken out in one country by a team and F1 is racing in a country that dosnt recognize the patents from that country than every other team could use the invention for that race only.
    Just my thoughts but I’m no expert.

    [Reply]


  18.   18. Posted By: mo kahn
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 3:32 am 

    All I can say is that if Lotus can provide a decent car to Kimi then 2012 would hold interest in terms of excitement… Technicalities and innovations shouldn’t be patented for it would provide unfair advantage… But, Didn’t the guy who exposed this Lotus Innovation must be treated in the very manner as Mclaren were treated in Spygate Scandal? or only Journalists are allowed this Luxury of Immunity in the name of Freedom of Speech?

    [Reply]

    iwan Reply:

    Two completely different scenarios.

    [Reply]

    SteveH Reply:

    The ‘guy’ who exposed this is Giorgio Piola, an amazingly good technical illustrator who produces the F1 Technical Analysis books after each season. If you have an interest in the technical side of F1 (I asume you do, as you are commenting on this article) they are a must read. Giorgio analyses the cars, gearboxes, brakes, suspension, etc. and produces the most awesome drawings explaining how things works, as well as dong comparative drawings to show evolutions. Highly recommended.

    [Reply]

    Davexxx Reply:

    Glad you raised this point, as non-one else did but I had the same idea… I presume it’s a huge Grey Area, when one engineer (Bob Bell in this case) goes to another team which then uses an idea of his previous team… Lawyers, Start Your Engines!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Yep but the community is quite small and that individual may well be considered unemployable. I’m just guessing here…..

    [Reply]

    Andy c Reply:

    I don’t know about f1 contracts in terms of intellectual property but if all work were deemed as owned by the team, then Adrian newey would not be able to carry any knowledge of things done at mclaren to redbull. Seems u realistic to me… And hard to prove.

    [Reply]


  19.   19. Posted By: Lindsay
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 4:20 am 

    Mercury…

    I wonder what industry they might be pitching this technology at.

    [Reply]

    Werewolf Reply:

    Perhaps they’re going to relaunch the record label … on vinyl, of course!

    [Reply]


  20.   20. Posted By: Wu
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 7:04 am 

    Why would anyone want patents in F1? 2009 season would have been a clear victory for JB. Instead we had a reasonable ending to the season because teams like Mclaren and Redbull caught up.

    With patents, we would see a season like last year’s more often. I doubt anyone really wants that.

    [Reply]


  21.   21. Posted By: Roo F1
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 9:35 am 

    one thing I don’t understand – no word about McLaren or Red Bull. It’s very well to say ‘Ferrari are trying their own’ – but the current top two teams aren’t stupid… either they are doing it, have their own, or are not doing it (why?). Would be good to know.

    [Reply]

    Andy c Reply:

    Ferrari would say they were working on it even if they weren’t. They wouldn’t want to be seen to be missing out on a big time innovation again :-)

    [Reply]


  22.   22. Posted By: chris green
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 11:35 am 

    for sale: chinese pending patent hydraulic enhanced pushrods
    very good F1 copy type as used 2012 season championship. enhance ride height under the brakes and on top of the throttle. not used item – new – reliable seller see feedback quick post from hong kong.
    lol

    [Reply]


  23.   23. Posted By: blackshocks
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 1:05 pm 

    James, off-topic; any chance you can come up with a mobile version of your site?

    [Reply]


  24.   24. Posted By: bar555
        Date: January 14th, 2012 @ 1:51 pm 

    Lotus Renault is keen on technical novelties,for example
    - tyre warming designs with hot air and inertia systems,
    - 2011 Front exit exhausts ,
    - this season ride height control system
    and i wonder what else.I believe there are more to come from Lotus and should keep an eye fixed on new Lotus car .

    [Reply]

    Roo F1 Reply:

    Yes they were all novel – exploding the car a couple of times and providing zero race pace. Surely a 2011 novelty to be proud of.

    [Reply]

    bar555 Reply:

    Novelty does not always pay a team with wins at first place but gives the team potential to cut way . Provided FIA does not rule out the innovation . Innovations do provide risks and for sure Lotus Renault gambled a lot but what is life without gambling and luck .Besides R31 will be always remembered as the first F1 car with front exit exhausts and not for its pace . From that aspect Lotus did great in 2011 .

    [Reply]


  25.   25. Posted By: Dren
        Date: January 17th, 2012 @ 3:27 pm 

    There are many factors for not patenting technology in F1. The technology would be public. The technology moves so fast relative to how long the patent process takes. Patents do not give a competitive edge because the technology would be banned in F1 soon after. Patents require a lot of legal fees. The teams are not in F1 to make money on the technology, they are mostly in F1 for advertising.

    [Reply]


  26.   26. Posted By: Jaime_F1
        Date: January 17th, 2012 @ 5:37 pm 

    Little bit doubt new system will improve 2012. Last season they are initiate front-exhaust system, it was not give much more results.

    Videos: Formula 1 Reactive Ride Height System
    http://thisisf1.com/2012/01/13/formula-1-reactive-ride-height-system/

    [Reply]


  27.   27. Posted By: Ramshoek
        Date: January 19th, 2012 @ 12:19 pm 

    I like these mechanical innovations and I can imagine them to be of use for the car industry / your our my vehicle. Which can’t be said about a double blown diffuser with forward facing exhausts. Or do you think the next Renault Clio will have such a system? …

    [Reply]

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