In amongst the ongoing naming rights spat between Team Lotus and Renault F1 backer Group Lotus, the former's alleged intellectual property infringement against Force India has been largely forgotten, but will resurface between the 2011 and 2012 F1 campaigns.
The English High Court has set aside the week commencing 16 January 2012 to hear the four-pronged claim by Force India F1 Team Ltd against 1Malaysia Racing Team SDN BHD, 1Malaysia Racing Team (UK) Ltd, Michael Gascoyne and Aerolab Srl after the Silverstone-based team expressed concerns about a breach of confidentiality by the latter.
Vijay Mallya's team had a contractual agreement with Aerolab Srl under which the Italian concern would provide services for the development of aerodynamic components of the 2008 VJM02 and 2009 VJM03 cars, in cooperation with the team's own aerodynamic department in Brackley. However, that collaboration ended in August 2009 when the team first raised concerns about breaches of security that may have resulted in design secrets being disclosed to the 1Malaysia Racing Team Ltd - which would become Lotus Racing - and head of engineering Mike Gascoyne, with whom Aerolab Srl was working with through a sister company. According to Force India, the intellectual property was subsequently used in the development of Gascoyne's Lotus T127, which debuted last season.
While Aerolab Srl started civil proceedings in both Italy and the UK for the early termination of the service agreement - something Force India paid €1m into an escrow account as a security - the team started criminal proceedings in October 2009 by filing a complaint against unknown persons with the competent Italian authorities for the illegitimate disclosure of confidential information.
Force India believes that evidence retrieved during the investigations carried out by the Italian authorities show that a transfer of information took place and, as a result, separate criminal proceedings are currently ongoing in Italy in respect of the wrongful disclosure of confidential information, with articles in the Italian press recently claiming that Gascoyne, Team Lotus CEO Tony Fernandes and Aerolab's Jean Claude Migeot have all been formally charged.
Similar evidence was then submitted to the UK courts, and the civil case to be heard next January will now deal with the IP infringement and the services of Aerolab Srl. to Force India F1 Team Ltd. Meanwhile, in Italy, the authorities are actively pursuing cases against Gascoyne, 1Malaysia Racing Team Ltd and Aerolab Srl. for consistent infringements of intellectual property rights.