Lots of Trouble, Usually Serious
It’s long been joked that Lotus was an acronym for ‘Lots of Trouble, Usually Serious’ but who would have thought a name could cause so much trouble? At stake, the Team Lotus brand and an argument was clearly on the horizon when both Group Lotus plc and Team Lotus Ventures Limited registered trademark claims on the marque. The former is the car manufacturer created by Colin Chapman and currently in the ownership of the Malaysian car company Proton while the latter subsequently sold the naming rights to Tony Fernandes who this weekend announced that Lotus Racing will be known as Team Lotus next year.
It’s not the first time that Group Lotus and David Hunt’s Team Lotus Ventures Limited have gone head-to-head at the Intellectual Property Office and crucially Hunt won (Link to pdf). Looking at the history of the companies, it’s not hard to see why Group Lotus have such a weak claim.
Lotus Engineering Company in 1952 as a partnership between Colin Chapman and Michael Allen. Later that year, the partnership broke up and the Lotus Engineering Company became a trade name for Colin Chapman before Lotus Engineering Company Limited was formally founded in 1953 with Colin Chapman and Hazel Williams (later Hazel Chapman) as directors.
Team Lotus split off in 1954 to become Team Lotus International Limited. In late 1990, Team Lotus Limited, run by Peter Collins and Peter Wright, purchased the Team Lotus name and operated the Team until late 1994 when it went into administration. David Hunt subsequently bought it under the name Team Lotus Grand Prix Limited.
Meanwhile, in 1994, the Chapman family formed Classic Team Lotus to support owners of single-seater, open wheel Lotuses.
However, the Lotus Group of Companies was formed in 1959, combining Lotus Cars Limited (road cars) and Lotus Components Limited (customer competition cars).
In 1969 it became the Group Lotus Car Companies Limited, consisting of Lotus Cars Limited, Lotus Cars (Service) Limited, Lotus Cars (Sales) Limited and Lotus Components Limited. The group encountered minor changes over the next few years, for example Lotus Components Limited became Lotus Racing Limited in 1971 although it ceased operation in the same year. In 1986, General Motors acquired all shares of Group Lotus. There was a rumour that GM thought they were getting the Formula One team as well and that they talked to Hazel Chapman about buying Team Lotus at one point. In 1993 GM sold Lotus Group to the Bugatti Group who in turn sold a controlling share to Proton in 1996 who retain that interest until this day.
The key point here is not only that Team Lotus and Lotus Group were entirely different companies but that Team Lotus was operating in Formula One outside of the ownership of the Lotus ‘family’ in the final years leading up to its demise in 1994, thereby demonstrating how they are not connected.
Proton’s response today has been bullish, with their chairman Nadzmi Salleh declaring: “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 One 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.” However, it seems like nothing but posturing and Lotus Group’s case is weak – they’ve lost before and with the Chapman family backing Fernandes, it’ll probably happen again.
One potential twist buried amongst this is that Lotus Group have teamed up with ART Grand Prix in GP2 and GP3. ART withdrew their submission to enter F1 but a future bid with an eye on 2012 could muddy the waters, drawing the Todt family into the equation.
However, Fernandes has now “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.” It’s telling that where Lotus Group have tried to start a war of words, Fernandes is confident to simply leave it to the courts to decide.