Court testimonies to defend the Defender revealed

Details of testimonies from former Ford design chief on the Land Rover Defender trademark court case have been revealed.

Jaguar Land Rover last week officially lost its UK court bid to secure the trademark rights for the shape of its old Defender 4×4, allowing chemicals firm Ineos to proceed with production of its similarly styled Grenadier.

Now, more details of both firms’ testimonies to the court have been revealed by Automotive News Europe. It shows that JLR’s fighting for the case extended to bringing former Ford design chief J Mays to defend their stance. Despite that, the firm lost: the judge in the case upheld findings by the Intellectual Property Office that the shapes JLR sought to protect weren’t distinctive enough to trademark.

JLR, which has been pursuing cases to trademark the Defender’s name and exterior look for four years, first lost in court in 2019 in a long-running battle with Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe. It then lodged a High Court appeal, which has now been dismissed.

During the court process JLR cited a report made by Mays, who has a history of designing cars at the Volkswagen Group and BMW and served as VP of design at Ford for 16 years. His report cited a number of features as being unique to the Defender, including the clamshell bonnet, flat, almost vertical windscreen and ‘Alpine’ roof windows, which have been allegedly mimicked or copied on the Grenadier.

Mays subsequently cited features that ‘normal’ SUVs have that the Defender doesn’t, such as a stamped body. There is also features such as the offset spare wheel and “arrow shot” back windows that the firm claims are design traits that belong to them.

“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 in his report.

“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. It is unique.”

The hearing officer of the original case disagreed with this argument, stating that Mays’ position as a “design expert” and that “differences in design that appear important to him may be unimportant, or may not even register, on average consumers of passenger cars.”

Ineos’ (Grenadier pictured above) response was to hire former Volvo and Austin Rover designer, Stephen Harper, who claimed that there are a number of models in history or on sale that mimic the Defender’s design – including the 1940s Willy’s Jeep and older version of the Mercedes G-Class.

An appeal was lodged after JLR lost the case, the judges agreeing with Ineos’ position. That appeal was then dismissed as the new judge agreed with the original verdict.

In a statement, JLR noted its disappointment in the ruling, given that the Defender’s shape is already trademarked in a number of other markets.

“The Land Rover Defender is an iconic vehicle which is part of Land Rover’s past, present and future,” it said.

“Its unique shape is instantly recognisable and signifies the Land Rover brand around the world.”

Ineos responded by saying that the Defender’s design “does not serve as a badge of origin for JLR’s goods” and confirmed it will press ahead with plans to launch the Grenadier in 2021 (pictured above).

There’s still no clarity as to whether the rugged off-roader will be produced in Portugal and finished in the UK, as originally planned, or whether Ineos will instead purchase Daimler’s factory in Hambach, France and move its operations there.

Lawrence Allan

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