Breaking: Lotus Racing sending name battle to court

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The battle over the name “Lotus” is about to get much, much more heated.

Lotus Racing (aka the team now on the Formula 1 grid) on Monday announced its intent to clarify who has the right to the historic “Team Lotus” name in the English courts.

That move came after Proton, owner of the Lotus road car (i.e. those Elises you see tooling around), threatened its own legal action.

Grace covered that part of the story earlier today. Here’s an excerpt:

It appears that Group Lotus wants to start an F1 team of their own instead of going along with Fernandes, hence the battle for the “Team Lotus” name. Fernandes, on the other hand, doesn’t want two “Lotus” teams showing up on the grid in the near future so he’s trying to buy the name and keep Proton from using it. I also think F1B reader F1 Kitteh is on to something in the previous post: (paraphrasing) The team used to be Team Malaysia and now they’re not so Proton wants out. F1 Kitteh suggests the Fernandes and Mike Gascoyne are smart enough to figure out that being associated with Malaysia is a handicap and not an asset so they need to keep it English, hence Team Lotus.

Seemingly at the center of this — from the fan perspective — is an issue of there potentially being two Lotus teams in F1, as well as perhaps at the GP2 level.

For the players involved, it is about marketing, market share, brand management, etc.

Here’s what Lotus Racing had to say about its response to Proton’s threat. Via a press release from Lotus Racing, with Lotus Racing Chief Executive Officer Riad Asmat speaking:

“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.”

It sure beats the Force India suit against Lotus over stealing one of their model cars, huh?

Anyone with familiarity with British law want to weigh on what might happen?

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