NOVEMBER 3, 2005

Legal trouble Down Under

Australia this weekend hosts the fourth round of the A1 Grand Prix series in the face of an attempt to stop it using the term Grand Prix by the organisers of the country's Formula 1 race.

Australia's A1 franchise holder, Alan Jones, told Australian radio this afternoon that a writ had been served on A1 in the run up to the race at Sydney's Eastern Creek Raceway. Ironically Jones is Australia's most recent F1 World Champion, in 1980, and was for many years a member of the board of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation which is trying to prevent A1 associating itself with the words "Grand Prix".

Jones said the writ was "a bit of a shame" and added that "I can't see how anyone has a stranglehold on the use of the term 'grand prix'. It is a pretty generic term. It just means big prize. We're not trying to detract from the Melbourne Grand Prix. I don't see what the hassle is."

Australian GP Corporation chairman Ron Walker said in late September that he had authorised proceedings to begin as a result of a breakdown inÊ talks in London with A1's lawyers, although nothing more has been heard publicly from the corporation since. It claimed in its September statement that "A1's use of the phrase 'A1 Grand Prix' infringes the corporation's intellectual property rights.ÊAccordingly AGPC has instructed its lawyers to commence proceedings to protect these rights."

Australia's drivers this weekend are Will Davison, a one-time British Formula Renault and Formula Three racer who has been an ambassador for the AGPC for several years, and Christian Jones, son of Alan and last year's Asian F3 champion.

The best result so far for Australia in the A1 series was a second place by Will Power, another AGPC ambassador who has since landed a drive in Champ Car racing.

Given that the Formula One group does not even have trademark rights on the term 'Formula 1' or even 'Formula One' (beyond claiming them) the attempt to protect 'Grand Prix' must be seen as a supreme piece of wishful thinking, which will be paid for by the tax payers of Victoria.

Formula One Licensing (FOL), the intellectual property arm of the Formula One empire, has tried 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.

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.