Renault: the secret is out -- it's war!

Mata Hari: shot by the French for espionage.
In modern times, would she have been an
interchangeable mistress?
"Three executives suspended by Renault for suspected industrial espionage" is the exciting title of a bit of breaking news that reached the IPKat through a media release not too many minutes ago. According to the release, "French carmaker Renault has suspended three of its executives in a possible case of industrial espionage following the suspected leaking of secrets about the company’s electric vehicle programme".

The rest of the release is taken up by a reminder from Antony Gold (Eversheds) about the scope for protection and IP abuse in the automotive industry. Antony concludes: " ... some very valuable rights - such as confidential information/trade secrets and unregistered rights like design rights - are notoriously difficult to define and protect. In any environment whereby the obtaining and misuse of precious know-how can lead to potentially enormous commercial advantage, concerns about espionage are bound to arise".  Registered rights are difficult to define and protect too, says the Kat -- look at the automotive industry's attempts to protect the shapes of cars and their accessories through the use of registered Community and national designs over the years [visit Class 99 and search for 'car'], as well as through trade mark registration.  But if things are difficult for Renault to protect, that means it's easy for Renault to appropriate other people's assets -- even their personal names.

Merpel is much taken by the reaction of French Industry Minister Eric Besson, who warned his patriotic nation that it was facing "economic war" following this episode:
"Unfortunately, the affair appears serious [unlike, presumably, those which the Minister is said by his former wife to have had over the past 30 years with "interchangeable mistresses"]. The expression 'economic war', while sometimes outrageous, for once is appropriate".
M. Besson is at least consistent on the subject of protecting secrets, having called for WikiLeaks to be banned from using French servers [Hmm, says Merpel, some of us don't have the option of being banned. Do you know how difficult it is for a cat to get served in a French restaurant?].  But whose secrets are they? While patriotic French readers will be confident that they are the product of creative French minds -- along with the croissant, Brie and the magnificently non-Renault 2CV -- the Japanese will tell you that all the creative work came from them, via Renault-held Nissan's white-hot technological expertise.

Strange, isn't it, says the IPKat: in the olden days "suspension" meant part of the car, and you were in for a bumpy ride if it didn't fulfil its function properly. Now it's what happens to executives who don't fulfil their function properly ...

Sylvie Brunel (ex-Besson's) book here
Mata Hari here
The secret croissant here
Obvious choice of lawyer in case of an automotive dispute here
Renault: the secret is out -- it's war! Renault: the secret is out -- it's war! Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, January 06, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. A couple of the TV media channels have reported that the government is murmuring about beefing up the legislation with regard to industrial espionage for state financed or funded research and development. The French government is reported as still owning 15% of Renault's stock, so no surprises there as to where that kneejerk reaction came from. It is also noteworthy that the TV reports mention that at least 3 people have been involved, one of whom was on the board of directors, and one in R&D, working on technology related to electrically powered vehicles.

    It also of interest that this "scandal" comes on top of other reported cases of industrial espionage allegedly perpetrated by Chinese students a few years ago on research placements in famous French research institutions. The media have seized on what would've otherwise been a fairly insignificant piece of news for most people in an attempt to whip up patriotic sentiment. Of course, no doubt the government sees this as an ideal opportunity to jump on the protectionist bandwagon for the period of time that it remains a "hot topic" and nothing sordid likely to affect any ministers past or present comes out.

  2. Wait, maybe they got something wrong at Reault: Didn't one of more recent the Wikileak cables educate us that French industry-related espionage is causing more harm to the German economy than all the other countries in the world taken together? ;)

  3. Was any of the following information leaked in relation to reliability?

    How Renault made my car alarm so that it would go off at 4am without good reason.

    How Renault made my windscreen come out of its seal, all on its own.

    How my worn wheel bearings knew it was time to start squeaking, just after the warranty ran out.

    Why Renault cars are fantastic to drive, when they are on the road!

    Not IP related, but couldn't resist

  4. French industrial espionage used to be rife. In days gone by, if you were attending the Paris Air Show, you would never leave any valuable information in your hotel room.

  5. Jeremy,

    I've heard of the French serving snails, frogs-legs, horse and donkey meat, but cat? - are you sure?

  6. Not only Mr. Besson's wife has some reason to put his faithfulness in doubt: his former Socialist comrades where also rather miffed when he noisily left them in the middle of the 2007 presidential election campaign, to join subsequently Mr. Sarkozy's conservative cabinet after his victory.

    Since he was a long-time fixture of Socialist Party HQ, he certainly took with him much privileged information and not a few "trade secrets". So he should know what he's talking about.

    Anyway, in this particular case I don't think he's exaggerating. Such shenanigans certainly aren't unheard of in the automobile industry: remember the tiff between GM and VW over "supermanager" Lopez de Arriortua? And there was also more recently the Formula 1 espionage affair where one team was found guilty of snooping on Ferrari...uhmmm, who was the guilty party then?

    Flippancy apart, I'm curious about which other automaker may have been caught with its hand in the Renault cookie jar...

  7. A few years ago, I came across this story alleging French industrial espionage ...



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