Jeep, FCA Score Interim Court Victory in Mahindra Roxor Infringement Case

The automotive world was treated to a rare look inside the politics of the American auto industry last week when General Motors filed a racketeering lawsuit against Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) for allegedly bribing UAW officials in a bid to undercut it. But, with the automotive world being a complex place, that is not the only legal action FCA is seeing this holiday season: On behalf of the Jeep brand, it just won an interim victory in its International Trade Commission infringement case against Mahindra’s Roxor, which we can all agree looks a lot like an old Jeep.

The Roxor is a side-by-side-style off-road vehicle that isn’t street legal. It’s made by Mahindra & Mahindra LLC, through its Mahindra Automotive North America arm. At the root of FCA’s complaint is the Roxor’s marked likeness to a Jeep CJ, despite a 2009 agreement between Mahindra and Jeep that allowed the former to use a pre-approved, slightly modified version of the latter’s signature grille design for its Scorpio vehicle. Roxor had planned to sell the Scorpio the United States.

FCA’s complaint was filed with the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) last August, and alleges—as you probably guessed—Mahindra’s Roxor violated the existing agreement allowing for the Indian company’s use of the Jeep grille. The complaint also alleges further infringements of Jeep’s intellectual property through appropriation of its “trade dress,” a legal term of art that refers to the general appearance, packaging, or brand image of a product. It doesn’t take a lawyer to look at the Roxor and see a Jeep.

The interim finding must still be reviewed by the USITC and confirmed in order to be enforced. Nevertheless, the administrative law judge found that Mahindra infringed on the Jeep trade dress and recommended that a cease-and-desist order be enforced on Mahindra to stop production and sales of the Roxor.

We reached out to FCA for comment and received the following: “FCA US is pleased that an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) has found that the Mahindra Roxor vehicle infringes the iconic trade dress of the Jeep® brand. FCA US believes the evidence and relevant law all strongly support the ALJ’s determination that Mahindra has engaged in unfair trade practices, and that Mahindra’s infringement was harming or likely to harm the Jeep® brand and FCA US. The ALJ has determined Mahindra violated 19 U.S.C. Section 1337 and that an order excluding infringing vehicles and components from entry into the U.S. is appropriate. In addition, the ALJ has also determined that a cease-and-desist order is appropriate preventing Mahindra from selling any vehicles already in the U.S.”

The USITC case isn’t FCA’s only avenue of attack against Mahindra’s Roxor, either. Mahindra made something of an own goal when it sought to enforce the earlier agreement regarding the approved grille design by filing a complaint against FCA in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, alleging FCA’s suit in front of the USITC violated their licensed use of the approved grille design. The judge in that case has already issued several rulings against Mahindra, including a determination that Mahindra is not likely to win its case on the merits—in other words, it’s more or less clear on the face of things that the Roxor infringed on Jeep’s intellectual property. Of course, the final determination of the matter, as well as what punishments or fines Mahindra may owe FCA, still awaits judgment from the USITC. That means Mahindra’s funky, dextrous little off-roader might soon need to trade its look for something less Jeep-y.

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