F1: A Pit Stop in How Intellectual Property is Protected - Uhthoff

F1: A Pit Stop in How Intellectual Property is Protected

November, 2022

The automotive industry is one of the driving forces of Intellectual Property, the sector has relied for many years on different figures of Intellectual Property in order to protect and perfectionate the technology in the automobile.

In F1 we can see all the advances of the industry in the highest-class racing competition, through races all over the year and all over the globe, where the best engineers give a prolific car to the twenty best drivers in the world, who battled to win the world championship. Margins for winning are measured in thousands of a second and millimeters. Therefore, any advantage that can be gained in the development of the car can have a significant effect on a race. For this reason, it is neither Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc, or Checo; but the hard work of the engineerings in the design, innovation, and technology of the car that makes a difference between losing and winning.

In this environment that has cutting-edge technology, monetary resources, and some of the brightest minds in the world racing with other geniuses to develop the finest car, we may think that patent protection is the most natural Intellectual Property right to count on. This is because a patent confers limited monopoly rights to novel and “non-obvious” inventions that have not been made available to the public and have industrial use. In this regard, if teams protect their developments to the car through a patent, they could prevent other teams to use the same kind of invention and take a high advantage over their opponents in terms of innovation as well as economic resources gained by the license of such patents. However, F1 does not have registered patents and the teams are not engaged in patents wars as in other industries, this is because the regulations of the sport established by Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile “FIA” (the agent in charge of F1 governance) do not allow to take advantage of this Intellectual Property right. The answer behind this is simply to prevail the competition in the sport. If a team designs an innovative technology protected by a patent that makes the car so much faster than the others, such team will restring the access to other contenders to such technology at the expense of entertainment and competition. In other words, this regulation is designed to allow any car to compete for the win to keep the sport enjoyable and competitive.

In view that F1 teams cannot depend on patents to protect their innovations, there are other IP figures to back on, this is the case of trade secrets. A trade secret is all information of industrial or commercial application that the person who exercises legal control keeps confidential, which means obtaining or maintaining a competitive or economic advantage over third parties in the performance of economic activities. Thus, a trade secret holds important information with commercial value and they have proved to protect in some way the technology of the teams. Since a trade secret does not give you the property of the innovation as a patent does, it could be a highly risky strategy because its information could be lost or stolen. For example, in 2012, F1 team Force India was awarded damages when two external consultants were held to have misused confidential information from a rival team and supplying it to Force Inida. There have been also recent complaints about Aston Martin’s AMR22 car which has significant similarities to Red Bull’s RB18 model, causing it to be named a “Green Red Bull’ or the 2020 Racing Point Car modeled closely to the Mercedes Car and called “Pink Mercedes”. Another problem with the use of trade secrets in F1 is that sometimes leaks of confidential information are difficult to prove since the rules of the sport stipulated by FIA specified that it is not illegal to use reverse engineering in cars, if and when, the teams prove that they have developed and designed the car by themselves and for their exclusive usage.

F1 teams could also seek for industrial design registration to protect the appearance of the car or a part of the same (such as the mirrors). Industrial models are made up of any three-dimensional shape that serves as a type or pattern for the manufacture of an industrial or artisan product, which gives it a special appearance if it does not imply technician effects. Copying such protected figure without the owner’s consent would reduce in infringement. This gives F1 and teams a lot of commercial advantage since they could protect the appearance of the car and commercialize with it in other industries such as car toys or collectible mini cars.

Another IP right that is widely used and essential for protection and commercial success is trademark protection, for example, “Scuderia Ferrari” brand has been registered for over 50 years. Formula One Group, who is responsible for the management and promotion of Formula One and the World Championship, has a current portfolio that includes over 80 registered trademarks. In recent years the protection has shifted to include not only teams such as Red Bull, Mercedes, or Ferrari but also drivers, names, tracks, helmets, and other items related to the sport. For example, driver Daniel Riccardo celebrates its podiums with a “Shoey” (the podium celebration of drinking champagne from a shoe), the owners of formula 1 have obtained a trademark on “Shoey” on 24th August 2017 and it is registered in 25 countries.  

As described in this article, IP protection is highly valuable in the sport since its protection gives a lot of importance, relevance, and value to business transactions in the sport. Also, the development and protection of the technology are essenctial for the success of the teams and to secure the economic value of the sport.

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