F1 team boss, Proton go to court over Lotus name

By M Jegathesan, AFP

Racing team principal Tony Fernandes today launched legal proceedings in a British court against Malaysian carmaker Proton over the rights to use the iconic Lotus brand name.

The legal battle erupted after Proton issued a statement on Monday that said it had terminated a licence for Fernandes and his 1 Malaysia Racing Team to compete as Lotus Racing in 2011 and future Formula One seasons.

Proton chairman Nadzmi Salleh vowed to stop the Lotus name from being used by Fernandes, an aviation entrepreneur who returned the Lotus marque to the sport in the current season after a 16-year absence.

“We believe the Lotus brand to be one of the most valuable brands in Formula One today. We are the owners of this brand, and will take all necessary steps to protect it,” he said.

“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.”

State-owned Proton bought a controlling stake in the British sports and racing car maker in October 1996.

Fernandes, the founder of budget carrier AirAsia, said last Friday during the Singapore Grand Prix that Lotus Racing will become Team Lotus from next season as he had bought the rights to the name.

Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun’s Tune Group have acquired Team Lotus Ventures Ltd, which has been run by David Hunt since cars were last on the grid under that name in 1994.

“We are absolutely delighted to have completed this transaction,” said Fernandes, without going into details.

Fired up by Proton’s opposition to stop Fernandes from using the Lotus name altogether, Lotus Racing chief executive Riad Asmat said they will seek court intervention to assert their rights to the Team Lotus name.

“Given that this is contested by Group Lotus we think now is the time to clear this matter up so there can be no further arguments,” he said in a statement today.

“We have therefore today 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.”

Proton said it had decided to terminate its current licence to Fernandes because of “flagrant and persistent breaches of the licence” by 1 Malaysia Racing Team, which it said was harmful to the Lotus brand.

It dismissed Fernandes’ acquisition of Team Lotus Ventures, saying “there is and always has been only one Lotus” and that its Group Lotus was the owner of all rights in the brand, including those relating to Formula One.