Court says Land Rover shape can't be trademarked
Land Rover has lost a landmark court case, in which it sought to protect the shape and styling of its original Defender model as intellectual property. The case was, not entirely coincidentally, brought as chemical firm Ineos geared up to show its Grenadier, a car designed to replace the original Defender in the market.
The UK’s Intellectual Property Office had earlier said that the outline and styling details of that original Defender couldn’t be protected, but Jaguar Land Rover, owned by Indian manufacturing conglomerate Tata, had proceeded with the court case. If it had won, it could have made life extremely difficult for Ineos’ Grenadier project, which while different in detail from the old Defender, is very similar in its broad strokes.
The court found against Land Rover, though, with the judge in the case saying that while motoring experts and enthusiasts might spot the similarities, they “may be unimportant, or may not even register, with average consumers.”
Land Rover responded to the decision with disappointment, saying: “The Land Rover Defender is an iconic vehicle which is part of Land Rover’s past, present and future. Its unique shape is instantly recognisable and signifies the Land Rover brand around the world.”
Ineos, owned by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe whose pet-project the Grenadier is, said in a statment: “The shape of the Defender does not serve as a badge of origin for JLR’s goods. We continue with our launch plans and are excited to bring the Grenadier to market in 2021.”
The Grenadier came about primarily because Ratcliffe saw that Land Rover was going to move upmarket, into more overtly luxurious territory, with its second-generation Defender, the first examples of which went on sale three months ago. While the new Defender is designed to be as comfy as it is rugged, the Grenadier, in theory, is designed to be much more a hard-working off-roader, in the traditional, first-generation Defender mould.
However, Ratcliffe’s plans came in for a great deal of criticism over the location of the Grenadier’s factory. When the car was first shown, the plan as stated was for sub-assembly work to be carried out in Portugal, and final assembly of the Grenadier to take place at the former Ford factory in Bridgend, Wales. Since then, though, Ineos has been linked to a purchase of the former Smart car factory in Hambach, on the French-German border, a move that has enraged many. With Ratcliffe being a noted supporter of Brexit, he is now being accused of hipocrisy in locating the Grenadier factory in the heart of Europe, at a time when employment in south Wales is increasingly sparse.
In a statement, Ineos Automotive’s Dirk Heilmann said: “New options such as this one with the plant in Hambach have opened up that were simply not available to us previously. We are therefore having another look and reviewing whether the addition of two new manufacturing facilities is the right thing to do in the current environment.”
Ken Skates, the Welsh Government’s minister for economy, said in the Welsh Assembly: “This decision is somewhat perplexing given the business in question is a supporter of Brexit and there is no doubt whatsoever that Brexit is doing immense damage to the automotive industry and the economy in general. This disappointing news should be reflecting the poor performance of the UK Government in terms of negotiations with our European colleagues to date and should send a very real warning for the state of the automotive sector as we reach the transition period.”