Lotus F1 faces legal battle over rights to Team Lotus name

Days ago, Lotus Racing officially announced the team’s plans to race as Team Lotus.

Group Lotus and Proton today stated that “Tony Fernandes has no rights to use the Lotus brand in the 2011 season” and that “we will strongly resist any attempts by him to use our brand without our permission and will withdraw our sponsorship of the Lotus Racing team.” You can read more in the official Group Lotus / Proton press release below.

Just 3 hours after the Group Lotus press release became available, Lotus Racing fired back with another press release of its own, also below.

GROUP LOTUS / PROTON Press Release

PROTON’S CLARIFICATION ON THE PURCHASE OF “LOTUS” BRAND BY TONY FERNANDES

Kuala Lumpur, 27 September 2010 – There is and always has been only one Lotus, the Lotus started by Colin Chapman. From the beginning Lotus made road cars and raced racing cars. Until 1994, Group Lotus, the road car manufacturer and Team Lotus, which operated the Formula 1 team, were in common ownership with common directors. In 1994, Team Lotus failed and Lotus has not raced since. Since 1994, David Hunt has claimed to have acquired assets of Team Lotus, including its name, from the liquidator. He has never raced as Lotus. Mr. Hunt’s attempt to acquire the name Team Lotus was ineffective. Group Lotus is the owner of all rights in the “Lotus” automotive brand including those relating to Formula 1.

Last year, Tony Fernandes and 1 Malaysia Racing Team recognised this by taking a licence from Group Lotus to use the “Lotus” brand for the “Lotus Racing” team in the current Formula 1 season. With PROTON’s agreement, Group Lotus has now terminated its licence to 1 Malaysia Racing Team to use the “Lotus Racing” brand in the 2011 and future Formula 1 seasons as a result of the flagrant and persistent breaches of the licence by 1 Malaysia Racing Team, which were damaging to the “Lotus” brand.

Following that termination, neither 1 Malaysia Racing Team, nor any other company associated with Mr. Fernandes such as Tune Group Sdn Bhd or Team Lotus Ventures Limited, has the authority of Group Lotus to use any “Lotus” brand in the 2011 Formula 1 season. This includes the use of the brand “Team Lotus”.

Group Lotus understands that Mr. Fernandes intends to rebrand the current “Lotus Racing” Formula 1 team to “Team Lotus” for the 2011 Formula 1 season. Mr. Fernandes indicates that Tune Group has acquired the rights to the name “Team Lotus” from a business formerly owned by David Hunt called Team Lotus Ventures Limited. Group Lotus believes these rights to have no proper legal foundation, a fact of which Mr. Fernandes was well aware when his company purchased them.

PROTON will support Group Lotus in taking all necessary steps to protect its rights in the “Lotus” name, including resisting any attempts by Mr. Fernandes or his companies, or any other unauthorised person, to use the “Lotus” name in the 2011 Formula 1 season.

Dato’ Sri Mohd. Nadzmi Mohd. Salleh, Chairman of PROTON Holdings Berhad and Group Lotus commented, “We believe the Lotus brand to be one of the most valuable brands in Formula 1 today. We are the owners of this brand, and will take all necessary steps to protect it. Tony Fernandes has no rights to use the Lotus brand in the 2011 Formula 1 season, and we will strongly resist any attempts by him to use our brand without our permission and will withdraw our sponsorship of the Lotus Racing team.”

“To put it simply, Group Lotus is everything Lotus. The fact that 1 Malaysia Racing Team entered into an agreement with Group Lotus to use the brand means that both Mr. Fernandes and 1 Malaysia Racing Team recognises and acknowledges Group Lotus’ rights,” he added.

***

Lotus Racing Press Release

SM Nasarudin, Kamarudin Meranun and Tony Fernandes, the three shareholders of Lotus Racing, announced on Friday 24th September that Team Lotus is back in Formula One™ from 2011. Lotus Racing has competed in the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship under licence from Group Lotus parent company Proton, and today Lotus Racing Chief Executive Officer Riad Asmat shed more light on why Team Lotus is coming back for the first time since 1994 in the 2011 Championship.

Riad Asmat: “This has been an incredible year for everyone associated with Lotus Racing. Last week we brought Team Lotus back to the Formula One grid when we announced that we had bought Team Lotus Ventures from David Hunt, and would be racing as the successor to one of the most iconic names in world motorsport. This year, we have established ourselves as the leading new team in Formula One™ as a licensee of Group Lotus, and, although we all dreamt of bringing Team Lotus back to where it belongs, we could not do so in 2010 because those rights were owned by Team Lotus Ventures. As Tune Group has now bought Team Lotus Ventures it means we can now use the Team Lotus name for 2011 and beyond. We are all delighted we can go into 2011 with total confidence in what we own, and what we can take to the track.

“However, given that this is contested by Group Lotus we think now is the time to clear this matter up so there can be no further arguments. We have therefore today issued proceedings in the English High Court for a declaration that Team Lotus Ventures has the rights to use the Team Lotus name and everything associated with that brand in relation to Formula One™.

“Racing under the Team Lotus name from 2011 means our licence with Group Lotus has now come to an end. In reality, this has nothing to do with how we will go racing in 2011, as the ownership of Team Lotus has been clearly defined for many years. David was approached a number of times about selling the rights of Team Lotus Ventures, including one official offer of from Proton / Group Lotus themselves. That must have been tempting for David, as the rightful owner of the Team Lotus brand and its rights. Oddly enough, Group Lotus also recently tried to revoke the Team Lotus trade marks at a hearing at the Trade Mark Registry, but they were unsuccessful. I suspect David’s misgivings about their previous offer to buy were justified by that action.

“The licence debate really is a non-issue. It was a simple licence, attached to a one year sponsorship deal with Proton for 2010 alone, and in fact for a tiny proportion of the amount invested by the shareholders into the team – approximately 1.5% of the total budget. Unfortunately we never reached the point where we discussed extending that one year deal. When we signed our licence to compete as Lotus Racing with Group Lotus, they were very clear that we could not make any reference to Team Lotus as they had no rights at all to the Team Lotus name or its rights. In fact, in the licence agreement between 1Malaysia Racing and Group Lotus the use of the Team Lotus name is expressly prohibited as they had agreed contractually, as long ago as 1985, that they had not rights to use that name. That was obviously something we had enormous respect for, and made no attempt to change until we could do so rightfully, and with a very clear understanding of what we had acquired in Team Lotus Ventures.

“So now the licence we ran under this year has been withdrawn by Group Lotus, and while we accept that this obviously means we have reached the end of that chapter, it opens up a new and very exciting one for everyone in our team. There will have to be some discussions with Proton and Group Lotus about the entitlement to terminate the licence. Frankly, they are trying to say that some very trivial points, including t-shirt design approvals of all things, gave them the right to terminate, but we thoroughly reject this.

“Now we look to the future. The details of what has been going on behind the scenes are now coming to light, and that’s good because it means the shareholders of Proton, the government, will now know the truth of what has been going on. However the important thing is to look at what we are doing to guarantee future success. We have already invested heavily in ensuring the Malaysian / ASEAN motorsports platform grows, something that cannot be said for our colleagues at Group Lotus. We created a world first when we ran Nabil Jeffri in our aero test earlier this year – the youngest ever F1 test driver. Fairuz has been gaining invaluable experience at the highest level by driving for us, and, through Tony and Din’s AirAsia Driver Development programme, we are giving young Malaysian / ASEAN talent the chance to reach the top. We are so proud to have laid the foundations for future success, and our fans acknowledge this every day. Personally I think it’s odd that our colleagues at Group Lotus have not embraced what we are giving them – a global platform for creating huge awareness and great value for their operations, all at no cost to them. In one year we have made huge strides in the growth of Lotus Racing, and now it’s all about Team Lotus.”

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