Jeep and Mahindra have somewhat of a history together, but the last few years has seen that history thrown out the window. Jeep has been going after the Indian company for design infringement and as Australia’s Car Advice reports, this new fight has started over Mahindra’s Thar.
Mahindra was one of the first companies to have a license to build Jeeps since the late 1940s. This license has extended and gone through every single one of Jeep’s eight owners. The last few years, though, have seen Jeep become more concerned about its design integrity with a number of legal fights here in the United States against the little Mahindra Roxor. Of course, it’s part of the brand’s image, but it’s not as important to Jeep owners as the brand thinks it is.
One of the first instances of Jeep getting upset about others using its design was way back in 2003. Jeep filed suit against GM over the Hummer H2’s grille. In the suit, Jeep alleged that the H2’s grille infringed on its “famous” seven-slot design and that it would confuse customers. Of course, the court ruled in GM’s favor. It laid out that Daimler Chrysler had no case since American Motors had an agreement with GM in 1983 that let GM use the intellectual property rights to the design. That’s not to mention that Jeep wasn’t even the original creator of the seven-slot grille design. Ford was.
Fast forward years later and Jeep goes after Mahindra. The Indian automaker had plans to introduce its small off-road vehicle the Roxor here in the U.S., but a suit against Mahindra in 2018 and its subsequent ruling in 2020 kept the vehicle from coming here. In their suit, Fiat Chrysler argued that the Roxor was too similar in design to the Jeep CJ and that that was a violation of section 337 in the Tariff Act of 1930. That section essentially protects intellectual property, including designs that would be imported from another country and resemble something that is sold here. If this is the case, why didn’t every subsequent owner of Jeep have a problem with this? Mahindra got their licensing from Jeep in 1947, nearly 15 years after the tariff act. But, a cease and desist of sales of the Roxor followed. (Images of the Roxor can’t even be found on Mahindra’s site anymore. It says things like “We will RISE again.”)
Now comes the Mahindra Thar. It’s a small compact SUV that resembles a mini Wrangler. It’s planned for release in Australia, but it’s not even on sale yet and Jeep is aiming to stop it. Jeep accuses Mahindra of “misleading and deceptive conduct,” “infringement of registered designs,” as Car Advice reports, and wants a 90 day notice if Mahindra plans to bring the Thar to market.
Mahindra says that they have no plans to sell the Thar on the continent and has even provided Jeep a written letter saying so. This is despite sightings of camoed Thar’s testing on Australian roads and a webpage on their Australian site where customers can express interest. (It has since been taken down). Jeep has issued a statement pretty much saying it doesn’t want the Thar to come to market, and that Mahindra is intentionally poking the bear. From Car Advice:
“….requested that Mahindra immediately cease and desist from all activities related to the import, distribution and sale of the Thar product in Australia”.
“FCA (the parent company of Jeep) firmly believes that Mahindra is seeking to intentionally infringe the intellectual property rights of our Jeep brand, specifically the Jeep Wrangler,” the statement continued.
“FCA will pursue all available avenues to stop Mahindra from continuing to make misleading and deceptive representations in relation to our Jeep brand, pass off their Thar as a Jeep Wrangler, and infringe our design rights.”
If this keeps up, Jeep might as well fight to stop Mahindra from making vehicles altogether.