Jaguar Land Rover has lost a legal battle to trademark the shape of its Defender 4x4 – clearing the way for billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe to build his “spiritual successor” to the famed off-roader.
A High Court judge dismissed an appeal by JLR after the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) refused to issue a trademark for the model.
The decision allows chemicals tycoon Sir Jim to forge ahead with his own version of the original Defender as he seeks to plug a gap in the market left when JLR halted production in 2016.
JLR has been trying to trademark the Defender shape for four years. But the IPO said it lacked “distinctiveness”, a verdict backed by judge Melissa Clarke.
The ruling removes a potential hurdle for Sir Jim's firm Ineos, which last month unveiled its design for the “Grenadier”, describing it as a rugged and uncompromising off-roader.
Ineos is pumping £1bn into the car. It is expected to hit the market in 2021, though industry experts question whether enough will ever sell to be profitable.
The company is in talks about buying a car plant in France from Daimler to build the vehicle, scuppering hopes of creating 500 jobs in south Wales, where work had started clearing a site earmarked for a Grenadier factory.
Earlier this year JLR started selling a new version of the Defender which shared no components or technology with its predecessor.
Sir Jim has previously dismissed JLR’s off-roaders as not being true to the Defender’s origins as workhorses, suggesting they are “Chelsea tractors” unlikely to ever go cross-country.
Ineos, which opposed JLR’s trademark applications, said: "The High Court has confirmed that the shape of the Defender does not serve as a badge of origin for JLR’s goods and therefore lacks the necessary distinctiveness to be a trade mark for car.”
JLR said that the Defender “is an iconic vehicle which is part of Land Rover’s past, present and future. Its unique shape is instantly recognisable and signifies the Land Rover brand around the world, with the classic shape being trademarked in many key markets”.
A spokesman added that the company was disappointed by the judgment but respects the decision of the court.
The firm did not rule out a further appeal. A spokesman said: “We will take whatever decisions we think are needed to protect our design.”