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F1- Chase After Checks; Have you Done It !!!

* Written by Dev Verma.


Each person is driven by a primary motivation, and for the majority of individuals, that incentive is to win and win big. The most lavish and ostentatious sport is Formula One (F1). When every team performs distinctly differently at every level, it is when racing is at its best. Tenths or even hundredths of a second can mean the difference between winning and losing. In this sport, each player's future is indirectly decided by the team. The cornerstone of the new knowledge and abilities used in Formula 1 are garnered from its competitors. At all levels, watertight security is required to prevent such compromises.

To the pits, with its Patents

If the engine is what separates one competitor from another and ultimately allows one car to win, even by a few seconds, then it makes sense that it would be the first IP protected. F1 does not mimic patent protection, unlike other competing high-tech industries such as telecommunications and pharmaceuticals. Competition is the simple explanation for this. Another team will use the "Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile" to officially eliminate them. Before the end of the season, the FIA Technical Working Group dynamics may change if a team has innovative technology for its engine that makes the vehicle 10 seconds faster than its competitors. It will be out of reach of the opposing teams. The FIA has warned that any Formula One team that attempts to enforce a patent would have the technology in question declared unlawful. This rule is followed to make sure everyone gets a fair chance and to let the most vehicles compete.

The length of time necessary to get a valid patent is another issue the F1 sector faces concerning enforcing patents. A team like this would need to apply for patents in all of the countries where F1 races are held. After the 18-month period from the priority date has passed, the patent publication will take place right away, even via PCT applications. Since this business evolves quickly and F1 would have finished two seasons by then, another team would have invented something by then, rendering a patent worthless for that period. The teams would also like to keep their patent confidential so that they cannot be used against them by rivals, particularly if the grant is uncertain.

Trade secrets of traction controls

Even though the teams cannot patent or profit from their ideas, trade secret protection keeps the competitive spirit and drive alive. Information that is held is not only extremely private, but it also has value in the marketplace and must be kept hidden under particularly strict conditions. The Trade Secret in F1 describes and emphasises IP strategy as being established by maintaining a trade secret as the foundation.

According to FIA regulations, only exterior appearance-based reverse engineering of vehicles is prohibited. The Racing Point RP20, or "Pink Mercedes" as it is well known, was widely acknowledged to be a near-identical replica of 2019 winning Mercedes Car W10. If the part is found to have a significant aerodynamic influence, the maker of the F1 vehicle that uses it must provide evidence that they developed and designed the item themselves, for their exclusive use, and did not receive it from a rival or other party. This was created so that Formula One can continue as a native-code Object() series. When Renault stated that the Racing Points team was using 2020-era rear brake ducts that resembled those on the Mercedes 2019 car, the other F1 teams protested. It was able to leverage the time saved by speeding up the production of a listed item to focus on other design priorities, giving it an edge over competitors. On the other hand, Racing Point simply used Mercedes photos to figure it out backwards. The FIA said that this meant the rules could be interpreted in different ways. Because of the negative impact on the team's aerodynamics, the brake duct design is now off-limits.

Various techniques are used to safeguard extremely private data.

Teams employ a wide variety of measures to guard their most sensitive, data-driven trade secrets and prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. For instance, Mercedes's High-Performance Powertrains (HPP) has issued a USB storage and pen drive policy that specifies that only approved devices may be used for HPP's encryption standards and security procedures. Engineer Benjamin Hoyle quit Mercedes after his contract was over because the company adopted this strategy, but he later went to work for Ferrari. Mercedes-Benz goes to great lengths to keep private data safe. Hoyle supposedly tried to cover its digital footprint by erasing certain data and removing files containing decoding codes and its Hungarian Grand Prix report. Mercedes is trying to find a way to recover its data while also trying to stop Hoyle from working with any other Formula One team.

Spygate, a notorious espionage scandal, was one of the greatest thefts of trade secrets.

When McLaren's former technical manager leaked and shared sensitive information about Ferrari's finances, engines, and technical report, as well as the fact that Ferrari had cheated to win the 2006 Australian Grand Prix, it was called "Spygate," one of the largest cases of trade secret misapplication in the history of Formula One. The published files concerned the Ferrari F1 2007 model and totalled 780 pages. In addition to losing the 2007 Constructors' World Championship, McLaren was also hit with a $100 million punishment.

Ferrari, Honda, Renault, and Mercedes are the only engine suppliers for the complete F1 field. Therefore, it is challenging for F1 teams to maintain secrecy while developing their respective engines in pursuit of championship glory. When it comes to F1's intellectual property, this is especially important because teams need to guard their competitive advantage.


“Formula One Licensing BV v. OHIM”[1] found that the word mark F1 also lacked distinctive features. Since "F1" was deemed to be merely descriptive by the court, it was ruled that it would not serve as the primary factor in the public's interpretation of the application mark. The letter "F" and the number "1" are the most fundamental means of categorizing racing classes. The court found that the two didn't look alike and that their language and ideas were only slightly similar.

F1 has been rebranding and modernizing its look since Liberty Media took it over, giving it a more dazzling image. Although the term "shoey," which refers to a podium celebration in which champagne is poured from a shoe, was invented by Daniel Riccardo while standing on the F1 podium and technically dates back 15 years as an Australian invention, the trademark for it was only given to Formula One licensing. It was put into the main category, which also included beer mugs, glasses, and other items.

Chase after checks: Conclusion

The purpose of intellectual property law is to safeguard the original author's ideas and works from appropriation and exploitation by others. Formula One would not exist if not for intellectual property, which has traditionally served as its foundation. One cannot exist without the other, and it is difficult to identify and characterize a single right that wields power because intellectual property is the basis of F1. This occurs because its IP addresses are all linked together and coexist. New contracts and rules, especially for the 2022 season following COVID-19, are making the competition more difficult. In addition, the regulations say that there may be no clear victor and that all teams must be given equal treatment.

The technology that powers Formula One is also finding its way into everyday cars and onto racetracks. Due to trade secret protection for most discoveries and the difficulty in determining if a patent application is derived from an F1 innovation, the report states, "the precise level of such authority is impossible to estimate from a peek at the patent register." F1 should enhance its patenting operations as teams make innovations that might be employed in production vehicles, which could swiftly reach people but are at risk of losing technology owing to the greater scale of patenting observed on-road vehicles. Since intellectual property is important for both vehicles and teams, the FIA should step up its monitoring, inspections of vehicles, IP audits, and independent protection of each team's policy to better protect F1 and the teams' IP.

*The author is a law scholar from Jindal Global Law School, OP Jindal Global University, India.

(The image used here is for representative purposes only)


[1] Formula One Licensing BV v Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market [2014] Eur-Lex (Judgment of the General Court)



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