Monday, August 10, 2020

The Land Rover Defender's Shape is Not Unique Enough


After Jaguar Land Rover discontinued the Defender in 2016, British chemicals giant Ineos and its billionaire Jim Ratcliffe wanted to come up with a modern replacement. With those plans looming closer to production, the British carmaker saw that as a threat to its heritage, and tried to register the shape of both the short wheelbase Defender 90 and long wheelbase Defender 110. Ultimately, they have lost the case.

Many of the Defender’s design features are present in the Ineos Grenadier, including the clamshell hood, the so-called “Alpine” windows in the roof, and flat windshield.

It was these features that Jaguar Land Rover used to mount a challenge to Ineos, even calling in J Mays, Ford’s retired head of design, as an expert, to plead its case.

Mays pointed out the features that the Defender didn’t have compared with other SUVs, such as stamped body panels, a contoured windshield, and an integrated hood. He also underlined the unique features it did have, such as the Alpine windows, offset spare wheel and the narrow so-called “arrow shot” back windows.

“Taken as a cumulative whole, the resulting difference in the overall shape of the vehicle from the norms and customs of the SUV sector is clear and significant,” Mays wrote. “It is that shape which makes the Land Rover Defender so distinctive and acts as a visual receipt to the customer that it is a Land Rover Defender.”

For its defense, Ineos, hired former Volvo and Austin Rover designer Stephen Harper, who, the appeal summary noted, pointed out that that there were many vehicles on the road that looked visually similar to the Defender. As an example, Harper cited the use of clamshell hoods on the original 1940s Willys Jeep and the Mercedes-Benz G-Class.

In the end, the U.K. court was not convinced by Mays’s argument. “Mr. Mays is a design expert. Differences in design that appear important to him may be unimportant, or may not even register, on average consumers of passenger cars,” he wrote.

JLR appealed on the basis that, among other things, the hearing officer did not provide a reason for rejecting Mays’s evidence and that the officer was wrong for concluding that the Alpine and arrow-shot windows were minor variations.

JLR’s appeal failed, with the judge agreeing with the conclusion in the original ruling that automotive features that seem unique to enthusiasts or design experts did not necessarily register with the public. “I accept Ineos’s submission that this provides adequate explanation of his reason for not accepting Mr. Mays’s opinion,” she wrote.

JLR says it has not given up the fight, but declined to say whether it would file another appeal. However, they did move to file a trademark request in the U.K. for the Alpine roof windows and the arrow shot back windows used on the previous Defender in an attempt to frustrate Ineos. So far, Ineos has not opposed them.

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