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Force India Accuse Lotus Racing of IP Theft

by F1Fan on June 3, 2010

In the rarified atmosphere of Formula One where a tenth of a second improvement can cost huge sums of money the teams are particularly sensitive about their design secrets, commonly defined in legal circles as Intellectual Property “IP”.

Whether you are McLaren, Red Bull or Ferrari at the front of the grid, Force India in mid field or Lotus Racing at the rear, confidentiality around certain aspects of your design especially with third party suppliers and service houses is paramount in maintaining a teams competitive position.

Following the Turkish Grand Prix Force India took the unusual step of filing a law suit in the United Kingdom against Lotus Racing alleging that Lotus had misappropriated Force India Intellectual property when designing the T127 chassis and confirmed the action in its recent Press Release:

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.

Reading this release I was struck by the sixth pargraph, where Force India refers to a separate court case between Aerolab and themselves in regard to undue contract termination and Aerolabs claim for additional payment, sounds very much as though the two cases are definitely related, or maybe this latest case is just a way bolstering Force India’s position in the first case.

In any event the last thing that Lotus Racing needs is the defense of a long and costly law suit. One wonders if the defection of several of the top technical talents from Force India to Lotus Racing announced the same day may also have added fuel to the fire.

Certainly Lotus are not holding back in their praise of the new recruits stating in thier press release:

“Lotus Racing has today confirmed the appointment of Mark Smith to the role of Technical Director, completing the senior technical structure and giving the team an excellent platform from which to achieve its goals of long-term success in the FIA Formula One™ World Championship.

Reporting to Chief Technical Officer Mike Gascoyne, Mark will start at the end of his Force India notice period, and joins Lewis Butler (Chief Designer) and Marianne Hinson (Head of Aerodynamics), also from Force India, at the Anglo-Asian squad. These appointments, alongside Keith Saunt (Chief Operating Officer), Dieter Gass (Deputy Technical Director), Elliot Dason-Barber (Head of Vehicle Dynamics), Frank Ramowsky (Head of R&D), Rob Reeve (Head of Electronics) and Jody Egginton (Chief Engineer), complete the technical senior management structure.

Mike Gascoyne: “I’m exceptionally pleased to welcome Marianne and Lewis to Lotus Racing, and I’m very excited to once again be teaming up with Mark Smith who I have previously worked with at Jordan, Renault and Force India. Lewis and I were together at Force India, and Lewis also worked with Mark Smith at Red Bull, and Marianne and I have known each other since 1999 when I gave her her first job in F1™ at Jordan, so we all know each other very well.

“Mark Smith and I were first at Jordan together where our first car was the 199, Jordan’s most successful F1™ entrant, and then he came with me to Renault where we helped put them back on the top step of the podium, and put in place the team that went on to win two world championships. Most recently we were together at Force India, and I’m delighted he sees the potential we have here, and has seized the opportunity to work with me, Tony and the whole team on helping Lotus Racing reach the front of the grid.

“For me, it’s not just about the proven technical ability of the team we now have in place, it’s also the fact we’ve all worked together before, know how to achieve the goals we’ve set out, and know how to have fun together. We all work together extremely well, and that gives us the perfect base from which to build for long-term success.”

Renowned for his belief in the power of the people he works with, Team Principal and Group CEO of AirAsia Tony Fernandes echoed Mike’s comments “I am delighted to welcome Mark, Lewis and Marianne to the team, and they join a group of extremely talented people at Lotus Racing.

“I am honoured that these fantastic talents have put their careers and their faith in Lotus Racing, and see the very bright future we all have together here. Formula One™ is a small world and the fact that they are coming to our team shows what we have already achieved in a very short period. Nothing will stop us from bringing in the best people we can, and we will give them the best working environment, and create the perfect atmosphere for them to fulfil their own potential, and help us in our quest to reach the top.”

If Lotus were nipping at Force India’s heels I would understand the lawsuit, for a brand new team to emerge with a competitive car right off the start would be truly incredible, but thats not the case, while the T127 has been much more reliable that the other new teams and is marginally faster they still have a long way to go, so one wonders what exactly was so good about whatever it was they are alleged to have used.

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