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Brand building in F1

Formula One Licensing (FOL), the intellectual property arm of the Formula One empire, has had a checkered career to date, trying to trademark names in an effort to create a well-organised brand for the sport. Although there is some limited trademarking on the expression "FIA Formula One World Championship" there are endless disputes over F1 and Formula 1. The World Intellectual Property Organisation, however, has said that FOL has yet to prove its claims to control wider use of F1 and Formula 1. This has not stopped FOL hassling those who use F1 and trying to begin a campaign to win "Grand Prix" as well. This is going to be a struggle because, unlike F1, the phrase Grand Prix pre-dates the automobile by a considerable margin and is used for any big competition, including films, athletics, horse racing and a number of other sports and activities. This usage is so widespread, in fact, that a court would almost certainly rule that Grand Prix is a generic term although some F1 races have trademarked more specific names, such as "Grand Prix de France".

For the record, the first recognised use of the phrase "Grand Prix" came in 1721 when the French Academie des Sciences inaugurated a system of academic prizes which played an important role in the development of mathematics and other scientific disciplines. The first application of the expression in sport was in 1805 when there was a horse race in Paris called the Grand Prix de Paris. The term Grand Prix was used regularly in horse racing from the middle of the nineteenth century, notably at Pau and in Paris where there has been a Grand Prix since 1863. The first attempt at an automobile was Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's steam vehicle of 1771, 50 years too late to be of any real use to FOL's lawyers and it is arguable whether this huge agricultural piece of machinery can really be equated with the F1 cars of the modern era, even by imaginative legal brains.

The first use of the phrase "Grand Prix" in relation to automobiles was not until 1901 when the town of Pau borrowed the title of its horse race for a series of motoring challenges. It was then adopted by the Automobile Club de France in 1906 for the first Grand Prix race at Le Mans.

FOL is reportedly opposing an application which has been made for the pan-European trademark for a series called Grand Prix Masters.