A High Court showdown has been ordered over badge rights to the world’s most expensive MG - with a tiny West Midland firm pitted against one of the world’s biggest car makers.
Trademarks Court official Allan James has ruled that Chinese group Nanjing’s claim for an alleged infringement of badge rights by Midland car veteran William Riley should now go to the High Court.
The decision - in a preliminary civil court case determining trademark usage - paves the way for a full David and Goliath courtroom battle, threatening the future of Mr Riley’s fledgling Tenbury Wells-based MG Sports and Racing Europe Ltd.
In September, Nanjing Automobile, swallowed up at the end of 2007 by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, issued a bid for High Court proceedings to be brought against Mr Riley over his launch of the turbocharged MG X-Power model.
The dispute between 63-year-old Mr Riley and the Chinese over the MG badge rights had rumbled on for over a year, with a series of arguments and counter-arguments over ownership lodged with the UK Patents Office.
But the Chinese raised the stakes by issuing High Court proceedings - and Mr James’ ruling now heralds a crucial courtroom battle between the smallest UK-owned car maker, with just a 10-strong workforce, and global giants SAIC/Nanjing.
The Chinese had applied for a stay of proceedings launched by MG Sports and Racing Europe Ltd over the use of MG trademarks - which could have stopped Mr Riley dead in his tracks and halted the sale of his £75,000 to £90,000 cars.
But, referring the case to the High Court, Mr James says: “After hearing the parties, I indicated that the request for a stay was refused. I was minded instead to exercise the Registrar’s discretion and refer the rectification and revocation proceedings to the court.”
Mr Riley had sought the award of costs of between £40,000 and £60,000, but Mr James said: “I am not envisaging an award of costs of anything approaching the £40,000 to £60,000 sought by the applicant, which appears to me to be a staggeringly high figure.”
Mr James’s ruling prolongs the Chinese challenge to Mr Riley’s plans less than a year after he launched the Worcestershire company in a £2 million venture.
Mr Riley, the great grandson of the founder of the Riley car marque, filed a witness statement to the Patents Office which says he bought the intellectual property rights to the MG X-Power from administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers on June 27, 2007.
But Nanjing legal consultant Natalie Atkins said in a subsequent witness statement: “NAC has made it clear to Mr Riley and MG Sports and Racing Ltd throughout that NAC is the owner of the global MG brand.
“NAC has also made it clear that NAC cannot allow MG Sports and Racing Europe Ltd to continue using the MG and/or the MG X Power names,” the statement said.
A date for the High Court showdown has yet to be announced.”