Arnold J rules in Formula 1 intellectual property dispute

A dispute over a Formula 1 racing team’s intellectual property has been settled in the High Court.

Force India’s lawyers James Mellor QC and Lindsay Lane of 8 New Square, who were instructed by Fladgate partner Mark Buckley, had tried to sue engineering and wind tunnel facility providers Aerolab for £15m compensation for the alleged misuse of the entire aerodynamic system for its 2009 car. The claim was prompted by Aerolab chasing Force India for unpaid bills.

Aerolab hired Withers partner Tim Bamford, who instructed 11 South Square’s Iain Purvis QC and Tom Alkin, to defend claims of ‘systematic copying’ of confidential files to help rival F1 team 1Malaysia – now racing as Caterham F1.

Caterham chief technical officer Michael Gascoyne instructed William Sturges partner James Hannon and 11 South Square’s Benet Brandreth after he was accused of being jointly liable on the basis of a conspiracy to misuse Force India’s IP rights.

Gascoyne was found not liable for breach of confidence.

In his judgment Mr Justice Arnold ruled that Force India had come “nowhere near” to establishing systematic copying and said it would receive just €25,000 because it was accepted that Aerolab’s designers had taken a “short cut” with some computer files to produce a wind tunnel for testing.

Force India were ordered to pay Aerolab €846,230 in respect of the previous debt that originally sparked the counter claim.

Following the ruling Bamford at Withers said: “This was a case of stark contrasts. The claimant valued its claim at £15m whereas Aerolab/FondTech’s assessment was that real value was little or nothing at all.

“On the evidence, the alleged conspiracy theory failed to emerge and there was no evidence of systematic copying.

“The outcome is plainly a very satisfactory one for all of the defendants but particularly for Mr Gascoyne, who was sued in his personal capacity.”