Drive M7 Claim Trademark Infringement Caused Aspar Sponsorship Deal To Fail

Drive M7, the Malaysian energy drink firm, has issued a response to the claims by Aspar that Drive had pulled out of sponsoring team at the last minute. Last Wednesday, the day before the 2015 MotoGP season was due to kick off, Aspar boss Juan Martinez claimed that Drive M7 had only just told him about their decision to pull out of sponsoring the team the day before. Drive M7 disputes that version of events.

When approached by top British motorcycle racing publication Bikesport News for a response to those claims, the Malaysian energy drink company issued a statement explaining that they understood that the 2014 sponsorship agreement - worth €1.8 million - would not be extended due to ongoing claims of trademark infringement. In June 2014, the Aspar team received a legal notice that they were infringing the trademark of an existing company, who hold the rights to the use of the word Drive for an energy drink in the European Union. Searching the international trademark database TMVIEW turns up a large number of companies using words such as 'drive' and 'driver' - including many breweries - as well as a Spanish firm holding a trademark for Driver EnergyJuice. Whether any of these companies are involved in the dispute is not known.

Aspar claimed their lawyers would deal with the situation, and would report back to Drive M7 once the trademark dispute had been settled. However, Drive M7 never received any further information or updates from the Aspar team, and were forced to conclude that the trademark dispute is still ongoing, and that therefore their Drive brand could be removed from Aspar's customer Honda RC213V-RS MotoGP machines before the end of the season. Drive therefore concluded that Aspar was in breach of the contract, and that it had not been automatically extended.

Drive M7 also claim that Aspar had promised to distribute and market the Drive M7 energy drink throughout Spain and Europe. But Aspar had not fulfilled their obligations in this regard, presumably leading Drive M7 to conclude that the trademark dispute had not been settled. 

Legal action has now been started by the Aspar team against Drive M7. No doubt this will be settled in the courts, long after the entire affair has been settled.

The Drive M7 sponsorship will remain for the SIC Moto3 team. That team is based in Malaysia, with the backing of the Sepang International Circuit. Sponsorship of that team is part of Drive's Asian marketing campaign, and so can be regarded as not infringing on the European trademark.

The press statement issued to Bikesport News is shown below:

DRIVE M7 SDN BHD wishes to clarify the controversy as portrayed in the Internet and blogs with regard to its previous sponsorship of the ASPAR TEAM by the brand trademark “DRIVE M7 ENERGY DRINK”.

DRIVE M7 SDN BHD had a sponsorship agreement to sponsor the ASPAR TEAM in the MOTOGP World Championship in 2014 in consideration of ASPAR TEAM carrying the livery of the “DRIVE M7 ENERGY DRINK” trademark. The agreement was for the season 2014 with separate renewal options for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The sponsorship was for 18 races of which 11 were for races in Europe and European Union territories for the year 2014.

In June 2014 in the midst of the 2014 season a legal notice to cease and desist was served on DRIVE M7 SDN BHD and ASPAR TEAM by a firm claiming trademark stating that continued use of the “DRIVE” mark in Europe and European Union would be trademark infringement and threatening legal action in the European Union, full details whereof are known to ASPAR TEAM.

ASPAR TEAM assured DRIVE M7 SDN BHD that their lawyers would attend to this issue. On this assurance, DRIVE M7 SDN BHD continued and completed the sponsorship for the 2014 season. A sum of about EURO 1,800,000.00 was paid to ASPAR TEAM in satisfaction of the sponsorship for the 2014 season.

Further there was no notification of the official withdrawal of the legal notice of June 2014, advised by ASPAR TEAM to DRIVE M7 SDN BHD. DRIVE M7 SDN BHD has been a responsible supporter of sports and racing sports and places great emphasis on respecting trademarks and intellectual property. In the premises inter alia there was no sponsorship arrangements concluded in so far as DRIVE M7 SDN BHD is concerned for the 2015 season. There were negotiations for a fresh sponsorship for 2015 season wherein reciprocal obligations were agreed including inter alia appointing Messrs. Jorge Martinez Aspar and Facundo G. De La Cuadra from the ASPAR TEAM as the exclusive distributor for the energy drinks in Europe and European Union based on various assurances from them and ASPAR TEAM. These reciprocal obligations are not fulfilled to date and hence no sponsorship are finalised or can be taken to be finalised in so far as DRIVE M7 SDN BHD is concerned for 2015 season.

ASPAR TEAM has recently initiated notice of legal action and DRIVE M7 SDN BHD has responded to the said notice. As there may be impending legal proceeding, DRIVE M7 SDN BHD does not wish to add further, suffice to say that DRIVE M7 SDN BHD will do the necessary to protect their interest.

DRIVE M7 SDN BHD trusts for the present this presents a fair and necessary response to the controversy that has been raised in the Internet blogs and press statement. We regret that ASPAR TEAM has issued press releases without giving DRIVE M7 SDN BHD an opportunity to add their comments to such releases.

DRIVE M7 SDN BHD refutes any suggestions that they pulled out the sponsorship at the last minutes. We wish ASPAR TEAM the best in their endeavours and the good relationship we had enjoyed.

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This just hurts the sport as a whole and potential sponsors looking to the sport will view this negatively even if it is in some small form or another and no matter who is 'correct'.

It's terrible for anything from team to sponsor to make it to court.

I'm sure the truth will be known in the end, as they say there are three sides, Drive M7's, Aspar's and the Truth.

None of this adds up. Every 'explanation' from Drive M7 just adds to the lies.

You do not assume anything whan it comes to the law and any layer that did should be fired for gross negligence. Drive should have been defending themselves against the trademark complaint and if they really thought it had been upheld how did they think Aspar was still using their logos till the end of the year and in winter testing? Did they not notice the bikes circulating at their local cicuit with their name on them?

and all arguments will drown in seas of half truths and nobody will ever truly figure out what went on....

But honestly, why would you ask a bunch of ex-motorcycle racers who now run a motorcycle race team to be your European Distributor?

Hardly the CV of choice if your looking to set up a network to wholesale an energy drink and sell it to grocers and supermarkets.

That bit of the story-so-far mystifies and dumbfounds me!

I wish THIS was an April Fool's joke. But apparently this is very serious and quite bizarre. I agree with others here that there is a lot about this situation that doesn't add up. The legal problems are one thing, but what about the team and its racing operations in the mean time? Is the team actually going to survive this nonsense? I sure hope so. The financial burden of fighting a legal battle of this type can drain them both financially and take a toll emotionally. And what about the riders?

Eugene fought so hard to get here, it would be cruel indeed for it to all unravel on him behind something that he has no control over. And for Nicky, well, I do't even want to go there. Let's hope everyone on the team can stay focused and keep getting the resources needed to compete at the highest level.