Skip to main content

Formula One and a Race for Patents That Will Never Cross the Finish Line

Posted by on Friday, February 9, 2024 in Blog Posts.

By Anjali Dhamsania

In the high stakes world of Formula One, where precision is measured in fractions of a second and innovation can mean the difference between victory and defeat, the automotive industry’s influence is undeniable. Much like the broader automotive sector, F1—the pinnacle of motorsport racing—serves as a showcase for cutting-edge technology and engineering prowess.[1] Covering a season spanning 25 races across the globe, the best engineers design prolific cars for the twenty best drivers in the world, who battle to win the world championship.[2] Every advantage in development is worth its weight in gold, with Grand Prix wins often decided by a matter of thousandths of seconds and millimeters.[3] Thus, it is not Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, or Charles Leclerc who are winning the races for their teams, but the tireless work of the engineers in designing and developing the technology of the car.[4]

However, there’s a conspicuous absence when it comes to the realm of patenting within the Formula One ecosystem. Unlike its counterparts in the broader automotive industry, F1 teams rarely engage in the traditional practice of patenting their technological advancements.[5] This intriguing aspect raises a compelling question: Why does an industry so deeply rooted in technological innovation and fierce competition not prioritize patent protection for its groundbreaking advancements?

One might instinctively assume that patent protection would be the national resource for safeguarding F1 teams’ intellectual property, given that traditionally, a patent grants exclusive rights to inventive and “non-obvious” creations, providing a limited monopoly over their use.[6] This straightforward strategy would allow F1 teams to shield their groundbreaking advancements in car design, potentially gaining a decisive edge in terms of innovation through patent licensing.[7] However, F1 teams do not engage in patent wars, and the lack of registered patents is not a mere oversight, but rather intentional.[8] The regulatory framework established by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)—the governing body of F1—prohibits the utilization of patents for strategic advantage.[9] This prohibition is not an arbitrary constraint, but a deliberate measure to preserve the essence of competition and keep the teams close in performance.[10] By disallowing teams to monopolize groundbreaking technologies, the FIA ensures that the racing remains inclusive, entertaining, and that every team has a fair shot at victory.[11]

It is not just the FIA that is averse to patents. The F1 teams themselves would much rather lean on trade secrets to protect the valuable secrets of their car than to rely on patents.[12] Why? One reason is because in filing a patent, a team would have to reveal how they did what they did in excruciating detail; this would likely give other teams enough of an idea to work around the patent and figure out an alternative method of design.[13] Another reason, along similar vein to the FIA’s reasoning, is that the patent would lock in an advantage the other teams cannot access.[14] As one senior F1 engineer puts it, the frustrated teams will simply vote it out through the FIA Technical Working Group process by the end of the season.[15] And a third reason for the teams’ lack of patenting is that the racing world is extremely fast-paced; regulations change every year, throughout the year, with massive upheavals occurring every half decade or so.[16] The patenting process is too slow—it’s highly likely that by the time a team obtains patent protection, that invention is already obsolete or was publicly discovered by the remaining teams.[17]

In conclusion, Formula One’s distinctive stance against patenting its technology unveils a deliberate effort by both its governing body and its teams to maintain the thrill and unpredictability that defines the sport. While the broader automotive industry relies on patents to secure competitive advantages, F1 recognizes that in forgoing the traditional patent protection route, its teams contribute to an exciting environment where innovation, speed, and skill converge without the constraints of exclusive monopolies. In doing so, the sport continues to deliver unparalleled spectacles, ensuring that Formula One is one race that patent law is unlikely to finish.

Anjali Dhamsania is a 2L at Vanderbilt University Law School. She hopes to practice patent litigation after law school. Prior to law school, Anjali graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering.

[1] John Fakas-Drosos, Why Is F1 So Popular?, Medium (Nov. 5, 2023),

[2] Teresa Raquel Aguilar, F1L A Pit Stop in How Intellectual Property Is Protected, Chambers (Nov. 18, 2022),

[3] See Andrew Wright, Vettel and Alonso’s Unseen Photo Finish at Suzuka, Total Motorsport (Oct. 11, 2022), (highlighting Sebastian Vettel’s 0.011s margin ahead of Fernando Alonso at the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix); Anita Elberse, Number One in Formula One, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Nov. 2022),

[4] See INSIGHT: The Trackside Engineers, Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, (last visited Feb. 1, 2024) (“In other words—a race is won at the track, but a Championship is won in the factory.”).

[5] See Aguilar, supra note 2.

[6] See 35 U.S.C. §§ 101–03.

[7] See Aguilar, supra note 2.

[8] See What Is the Driving Force Behind Intellectual Property of Formula 1, iPleaders (May 23, 2021), (“FIA has regulated that the patented technology would be ruled illegal if an F1 team were to try and enforce a patent.”).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] See Formula 1: A Driving Force Behind Intellectual Property?, Venner Shipley (Mar. 31, 2019),,applications%20to%20protect%20their%20innovations.

[13] See id.

[14] Patents in F1 Explained, (Jul. 26, 2012, 8:28 AM),,of%20the%20season%20in%20question.

[15] Id.

[16] See, e.g., Chris Medland, 7 Key Rule Changes for the 2022 Season, Formula One (Jan. 31, 2022),; Madeline Coleman, F1’s 2026 Engine Rule Changes Already a Hot Topic Among Team Principals, The Athletic (Jul. 14, 2023),

[17] See, e.g., Reuters, F1 Teams Analyse Crane Photos for Secrets of Red Bull Floor, ESPN (May 28, 2023, 7:56 AM ET), (pointing out that when Sergio Perez’s car was lifted in the air during the Monaco Grand Prix, it exposed the underside of the car floor to the other teams’ engineers).

Tags: , , , ,