The Haas F1 team will need to carry out an expensive re-brand after title sponsor Rich Energy lost a high court battle over its logo.
The action was initiated by British cycle manufacturer Whyte Bikes which claimed that the Rich Energy logo was a blatant copy and sought "the removal of the logo of the First Defendant, Rich Energy Limited, from the Formula 1 race car and website of the Rich Energy Haas Formula 1 motor racing team".
The case, which was heard in the High Court in London in March, saw judgement released today, with Judge Melissa Clarke ruling in Whyte's favour.
Clearly unimpressed with Rich Energy CEO William Storey's defence, and that of graphic design company StaxoWeb Ltd's boss, Sean Kelly, the judge stated that it was her belief that evidence had been "manufactured" by the pair.
"I am satisfied that some of Mr Storey's evidence was incorrect or misleading," she said, "and that he was involved in the manufacture of documents during the course of litigation to provide additional support for the defendants' case.
"I do not accept either Mr Storey or Mr Kelly as credible or reliable witnesses and I treat all of their evidence with a high degree of caution. Wherever possible, I look for corroboration from other credible and reliable evidence or the inherent probabilities.
"Mr Storey provided different and inconsistent accounts of the development of D1's Device, which also conflicted to a large extent with the evidence of Mr Kelly. He often did not answer questions directly, preferring to make speeches about his vision for his business or alternatively seeking to evade questions by speaking in generalities or in the third person plural. He only answered several questions when I intervened. He had a tendency to make impressive statements, which on further investigation or consideration were not quite what they seemed.
"For example, when Mr Wyand in cross-examination tried to understand his evidence about the sales figures of Rich Energy drinks, and put to him that he had been quoted in the press in February 2019 as saying that the First Defendant had produced 90 million cans, Mr Storey explained that it had produced 90 million cans, but had not yet filled and sold them. He said he would have to check the figures, but in 2018 he thought the First Defendant had filled and sold "circa 3 million cans" of Rich Energy drink.
"In fact, as Mr Storey acknowledged in his witness statement and accepted in cross-examination, the name "Rich Energy" was selected by the Croatian creator of the energy drink formula, Drazen Majstrovic in 2013, when Mr Majstrovic founded a Croatian company, Rich Energy C.O.O, to market his new drink.
"Mr Storey had no formal involvement with the brand until 2015. Accordingly the name of the drink was not selected by him to reflect his associations with Richmond, Surrey, as pleaded. By the time of his witness statement, Mr Storey's evidence was that he was from Richmond, Surrey and the connection between the word 'Rich' and 'Richmond' was why he kept the name Rich Energy, albeit not why it was originally chosen.
Referring to a £50,000 invoice the was said to have been submitted to Rich Energy for the logo design, Judge Clark said: "I have also considered, but do not accept, Mr St Quintin's submission that the Third Defendant's invoice of £50,000 is inconsistent with copying.
"First, both Mr Kelly and Mr Storey say that sum encompassed not only brand development but also a wider marketing strategy including developing, launching and maintaining the Rich Energy website. It does not all relate to logo design.
"Secondly, question marks remain in my mind about that invoice, which contains the Third Defendant's VAT number on the top but does not include VAT. Mr Kelly was asked why this was, and confirmed that his company was registered for VAT at the time, but had no answer to give.
"Thirdly, Mr Storey's evidence about whether he had paid the invoice was characteristically somewhat evasive. He said: "It was settled, so, yes, it was settled… Sean and I do a lot of business together in terms of I have had different IT businesses and sports management companies that he does web development for and design so, yes, it was settled… yes, it was settled, yes, it was paid… I cannot recall exactly, but I know that it was paid". No supporting documentary evidence of payment, in the form of bank statements, for example, has been disclosed.
In conclusion, Rich Energy's logo has been found to infringe the copyright in the Whyte logo, thereby entitling Whyte's parent company, ATB to an injunction, which could will likely mean the removal of the logo on the Haas cars, and damages, or (ahem) a share of Rich Energy's profits.
Rich Energy is allowed to appeal, and with that in mind the case is adjourned until a hearing on June 27.
Aside from those costs, Rich Energy will most likely now need to change the logo on the millions of cans of its energy drink that it sells, while Haas is almost certain to have to change the logo on its cars, driver overalls, transporters, motorhome...
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