Nissan’s radical BladeGlider concept EV, which saw its official debut at this year’s Tokyo Auto Show, certainly stands out from the crowd. In addition to placing the driver’s seat in the centre of the car with passenger seats offset either side to the rear, the all-electric concept car’s unusual deltoid shape shows that Nissan isn’t afraid to challenge our conceptions of what a car is in the pursuit of fuel economy and performance. It would, Nissan said, “reveal a new dimensions of driving fun and excitement,” and was inspired by “the soaring, silent panoramic freedom of a glider and the triangular shape of a high-performance ‘swept-wing’ aircraft.”
But Delta Wing Project 56, a U.S. company backed by nicotine-patch king and racing tycoon Don Panoz, is taking Nissan to court for copyright infringement. The design of the delta-wing Blade Glider, Panoz says, is the intellectual property of his company and not that of Nissan.
As Automotive News (subscription required) explains, Delta Wing Project 56 was the team behind the concept, engineering and development of the DeltaWing race car which competed at the Le Mans 24 hour endurance race in 2012. While many — us included — referred to the car as the ‘Nissan DeltaWing’ (it’s official name) the vehicle was actually entered into the 24 Heures du Mans under the team name of ‘Project 56.’ This consisted of the designer (Ben Bowlby), constructors (All American Racers), race team (Highcroft Racing), Nissan NISMO (engine) and Panoz in the position of managing partner of the team.
Here’s where it gets a little confusing. While Bowlby was responsible for the DeltaWing’s original design — and worked with Panoz for some time on the DeltaWing prototypes, he was snapped up by Nissan soon after the Japanese automaker officially came on board with the LeMans project. Now Nissan’s Director of Motorsport Innovation, Bowlby has gone on to use his original concept to influence the building of Nissan’s ZEOD RC hybrid electric race car, which is expected to compete at next year’s LeMans race.
That, and the delta-winged Blade Glider, says Panoz, infringe on the original intellectual property of the DeltaWing racer he helped fund. To that end, the civil suit his lawyers filed on November 22 in Superior Court in Jackson County, Georgia, against Nissan, Bowlby, and Darren Cox, director of Nissan’s global motorsports program, seeks a cease-and-desist order which would prevent Nissan from displaying, racing or selling delta-winged cars.
Panoz’s lawyers say that the millionaire owns the intellectual property rights to delta-wing cars, and wants to license the design to automakers in the interest of fuel efficiency. If Nissan continues to produce, race, and market its DetlaWing and ZEOD RC race cars, as well as the Blade Glider, Panoz says the design will enter into the public domain, making it a free-for-all for all automakers to copy.
It looks then that the problem lies not with the car’s sophisticated in-wheel electric motors, low-slung battery pack and 30/70 weight distribution, but with the shape of the car itself. In other words, Panoz wants to stop Nissan — and other automakers — from using a delta-wing design in a car…at least without paying his firm a licensing fee first.
We’ve got to admit to scratching our heads a little over this one. While Panoz’s company did bankroll a large proportion of the development of the DeltaWing, the original designer is now at Nissan. We’re not legal experts, so we’re not sure which way this fight will go. But if we had to guess, we think Nissan stands a chance of winning: after all, while the concept of using a delta wing for a car is new, delta wing designs in aircrafts have been around since the mid 1920.
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