China's cancellation of Jaguar Land Rover's patent on the Range Rover Evoque will not stop it from going after an alleged Chinese copycat in a separate unfair competition and copyright proceeding, a Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) spokesman said on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, JLR initiated legal action in Beijing against Jiangling Motors over its Landwind X7 SUV, which the UK-based company claims infringes the patented external designs of its Range Rover Evoque. Since filing its suit, however, JLR has made headlines, as its Chinese patents for exterior design of the car were designated “invalid” by the State Intellectual Property Office. According to notices on the office’s website, the patents were revoked on grounds that the Evoque design was put on public display a year before the patent was filed.
The State Intellectual Property Office also ruled to invalidate the patent of the alleged copycat, Jiangling's Landwind X7, saying in the decision that it strongly resembled the Evoque. Both automakers could still appeal the board's ruling on the patents' validity, said Chen Jihong, a Beijing-based intellectual property lawyer at Zhong Lun Law Firm. And even if the patent remains invalid, JLR could argue separately that Jiangling is competing unfairly by confusing customers or that the Evoque's design is automatically protected under copyright law as a piece of music or other creative work would be, Chen said.
JLR’s patent rights were central to its lawsuit against Jiangling, which experts say is now likely to be thrown out. However, JLR’s Global Corporate Affairs Manager, Andrew Marsh, says the company is not deterred. "It's still the same situation," he said on Tuesday. “The action on copyright and unfair competition are separate from the patent proceedings,” he said.
Once patents are invalidated, lawsuits based on external design elements often come down to a question of “consumer confusion”, said Matthew Murphy, a partner at law firm MMLC Group. “It starts to get very subjective,” he explained. JLR and Jiangling’s SUV models look almost identical from a distance but are priced very differently, with the Range Rover Evoque selling for about three times the price of the Landwind.