Friday 26 February 2010

MG Rover's IP lives on

The reporting of MG Rover’s demise in 2005 was notable for its considerable discussion of intellectual property. According to The Times of 26 July 2005, Nanjing Automobile Corporation acquired the MG marque and intellectual property associated with the MG variants of the Rover 25, 45, 75 and the MG TF sports car. Sources suggest a price tag of £50 million, which included the MG Rover assembly lines, engine plant and R&D capabilities.

If the significance of IP went over the heads of the general public at the time, this may change with the recent decision of the High Court in Nanjing Automobile (Group) Corporation & ors v MG Sports and Racing Europe Ltd & anr. [2010] EWHC 270 (Ch) (available on Lawtel).

The decision relates to the efforts of an English company to continue using the trademark “MG” in its name. The fact that a co-defendant is William Riley, great-grandson of the founder of the iconic Riley Motor Company, lends further interest. Both defendants base their entitlement to continue on the purchase in 2007 of certain assets from the liquidators of MG Rover Group and MG Sport and Racing Limited. Unfortunately for both defendants, judge Sir William Blackburne found them liable, ordering them to change their company name to one which does not include the letters MG and to transfer to Nanjing any domain names including the mark “MG”.

Rights in the “Rover” mark were never sold to the Chinese or indeed to their predecessors Phoenix. Rather, they were retained by the even earlier owners, BMW, before being sold to Ford as part of their acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover in 2006. It is presumably for this reason that the vehicles now manufactured by Nanjing are sold under the name “Roewe”.

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