Extreme E faces legal and IP dispute ahead of debut season
By Jonathan Rest
Extreme E, the SUV electric motor racing series which debuts in just three months, is facing legal and IP disputes with Extreme International, the multi-faceted extreme and adventure sports company and founders of the Extreme brand, Sportcal can exclusively reveal.
The two organisations have been at odds since the official unveiling of Extreme E by Spanish entrepreneur Alejandro Agag, the founder of Formula E motor racing, in London in January 2019, and the dispute is coming to a head, in the first instance, via formal trade mark opposition proceedings in the UK and European Union.
Extreme E is slated to launch on 23 and 24 January in Senegal, the Ocean leg, one of five stages in the inaugural season aimed at highlighting areas damaged by climate change (other races are planned for Greenland – Arctic, the Amazon - Rainforest, Saudi Arabia – Desert and Nepal – Mountain).
The pending opposition cases revolve around the fact that Extreme International has registered rights in the 'EXTREME' brand name from 2012, and thus Extreme E has no legal basis to use the word ‘Extreme’ when it comes to events.
Extreme E’s latest attempts to register its Extreme E trade marks are being contested by Extreme International, which has been operating for 25 years.
Extreme founder and chief executive Alistair Gosling told Sportcal: “We have long term brand registrations for events in multiple countries. We are going to protect our rights accordingly.”
Extreme International has four pillars to its business: a destinations arm, covering the designing, developing and operating of sports and leisure destinations; a sports and lifestyle events organiser; a media company; and a marketing agency, where it creates campaigns using its ambassadors, events and media network.
It is the latter offering about which Extreme International and Agag had detailed discussions about working together three years ago.
In October 2017 Ali Russell, then a senior figure within Formula E and now Extreme E chief marketing officer, requested to meet Gosling at the Sportel Convention in Monaco. Following that meeting, Russell invited Extreme International's media and marketing division, headed up by Ryan Maxwell, to come up with and pitch marketing campaign ideas to promote Formula E.
Extreme International’s creative team then presented two separate campaign concepts to Russell and colleges at Formula E’s London offices. One of the 12 ideas presented by Extreme International was the concept of taking Formula E cars to different environmentally-impacted locations worldwide.
Gosling noted: “As part of the process, Formula E asked for all our brand information and our decks. Fast forward just over 12 months and they duly announced Extreme E.
“A few weeks after the initial launch announcement I reached out to Ali [Russell], and said ‘Ali, this is interesting. We have got clear long-term brand registrations in the events category; what are you guys doing here?’
“He would not engage with me, in fact he ignored me, so I brought our lawyers into engaging with them and that got a result of sorts. We had three or four conference calls with their lawyers around this, making and putting forward suggestions of a co-existence agreement and other ways forward. They strung us along for a number of months and eventually said ‘we are not interested in discussing your rights'.”
He continued: “As a company and individuals, we are ourselves promoting and working towards the protection and recovery of our natural world. Therefore we are supportive of Extreme E’s aim to highlight the climate change challenges faced by different ecosystems (and a key reason why we pitched our ideas in this area to them initially).
“However, there needs to be respect for who we are, what we are and the legal registrations we clearly have. If you really want to use the brand and name, then let’s sit down and have a conversation. We have been at this for 25 years.”
With a strong CSR story, Extreme E has unsurprisingly proven a commercial hit.
Continental Tyres, the German tyre manufacturer, as founding partner, and CBMM Niobium, the Brazil-based supplier of the element niobium, as a supplier, were unveiled on launch day, while Neat Burger, the plant-based sustainable burger chain, and fashion supplier LuisaViaRoma, are other sponsors.
Spark, Williams Advanced Engineering, Velocity, MPA Creative and Interstate are official suppliers of the series.
Extreme E, using many of its Formula E broadcast contacts, is also set for broad media exposure, with rights deals in place with prominent players such as Discovery (North America and Europe), ESPN and StarTimes (sub-Saharan Africa); Fox Sports (USA, Canada and the Caribbean, Australia and southeast Asia); Sony (Indian subcontinent); and Dubai Sports (Middle East).
The series has also attracted high-profile team owners, with six-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton having launched the Hamilton X44 team.
Gosling said the launch of Extreme E has caused “brand confusion” both within the business-to-business and business-to-consumer communities.
When contacted by Sportcal today, Extreme E said it has no comment to make at this stage.