Mercedes sues its F1 engineer for spilling the beans!

top-secret-1234604In yet another alleged incident of high profile espionage in the world of Formula One racing, Mercedes AMG High Performance Power-trains (hereinafter ‘Mercedes’)has filed a lawsuit against one of its Formula One engineers for divulging confidential information to its competitor, Ferrari. Mercedes has alleged that the engineer, who was involved in their dominant engine programme,was wrapping up his term and was due to join Ferrari after the expiration of his current contract.The accused had applied for a resignation and since then Mercedes withdrew all confidential information from his custody.

The lawsuit alleges that engineer’ sanctions were calculated to destroy or “seriously damage the relationship of trust”. He has been accused of attempting to search and save files from Mercedes’s database. This included lifting race reports data, containing engine mileage and data damage along with files comprising of decrypting codes. It is further stated that he tried to delete the information in order to conceal his wrongdoings[1].

Confidential information is any information to which the common law ‘duty of confidence’ applies. A duty of confidence is created when ‘private’ information has been passed on in such a way that the person receiving the information was aware, or should have been aware, that the information was being imparted on the basis of confidentiality. Itis like any other asset to a company. As per the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the following comprises of confidential information:

  • the information must be secret, i.e., not generally known are readily accessible to persons that normally deal with that kind of information;
  • it must have commercial value because it is secret;
  • the owner must have taken reasonable steps to keep it secret.[2]

Mercedes claims that the accused’s possession of confidential information may cause wrongful loss to them. The lawsuit seeks return of all the documents, information and payment of damages and seeks to deter the accused from joining Ferrari as they may gain an “unlawful advantage” at the behest of Mercedes.Ferrari, on the other hand,denies having any such contract with the accused.

Mercedes, as known worldwide is touted to have one of the best engines and is their most prized asset. Thus, Mercedes’s swift action to protect its Intellectual Property does not come as a surprise.

[1] “Formula One hit by latest ‘Spygate affair’ with Mercedes engineer accused of stealing documents for Ferrari”, available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/motorsport/formulaone/12039990/Formula-One-hit-by-latest-Spygate-affair-with-Mercedes-engineer-accused-of-stealing-documents-for-Ferrari.html

[2] “Disclosing Confidential Information”, available at http://www.wipo.int/sme/en/documents/disclosing_inf_fulltext.html

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