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Hispano-Suiza brand changes owners due to inactivity

A little history of the company

The company "La Hispano-Suiza, Fábrica de Automóviles, S. A." was founded on June 14, 1904. The president of the company was Damián Mateu, Francisco Seix the vice-president and Marc Birkigt (the Swiss part of the company) the technical director. This company specialised in luxury and technically very refined automobiles, being one of the pioneers of the branch. The models were constantly improved in performance and successfully participated in many sporting events. The name is familiar to all enthusiasts because it is a Spanish brand.


At the beginning, it was supported by the king of the time, Alfonso XIII, a great fan of motoring who became one of the best promoters of the brand; he also gave his name to a model. OK, it was famous nationally, but did it have any special technique? Well, yes, it had several, such as the use of jacketed valves, instead of the current seat valves, and in 1919 the servo-assisted brakes in the H6B model, by the way, a vehicle with 140 hp. The sleeve valves are concentric movable cylinders with pistons with openings that coincide with the exhaust and intake ports. The synchronized movement of these cylinders allows air to flow in and out of the engine.

The great advantage of these valves was that it was much quieter than competing vehicles - Rolls-Royce was its great competitor - very important for the time when it was not normal to see a car, let alone a noisy one. The use of servo-assisted brakes was copied by other brands of the time, as the mass of the vehicles of that time was usually more than two tons and with this technique braking was greatly improved. Another milestone of the company was the construction of engines for aviation since 1915.


According to the chronicles of the First World War, these engines were vital for French aviation. Some of the technology used in aircraft engines was applied to automobile engines after the war. One of these techniques was the cast aluminium engine block, very common nowadays, at that time state-of-the-art technology. We could say that the fame came from the automobiles and the money came from the aircraft engines, this situation would be experienced years later by its competitor Rolls-Royce.

Finally, was it recognized worldwide? Yes, it was, and in 1911 it opened a factory in France. On the other hand, it sold licenses to build aero engines to companies in several countries -because it could not meet all the demand- and also sold Skoda the license for the production of the H6B model from 1926 to 1929. One of the most famous feats of the brand was a private bet of a 24-hour competition in the Indianapolis circuit, winning the Hispano-Suiza by speed from the first lap and finishing without problems, contrary to its competitor Stutz, slower and that broke several parts and had to retire. There are still unrestored units that still work.

During the 20's and 30's, except for a few strikes, the most important problem for the company was that it did not produce as many cars as it could sell. This all changed with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. At its inception, the management was expelled and its factories were collectivised and run by workers' committees. Production switched to armoured cars instead of passenger cars. Although automobiles continued to be manufactured under the Hispano-Suiza brand, 1936 is considered the last year in which the company "La Hispano-Suiza de Automóviles S.A." manufactured or sold automobiles under the "Hispano-Suiza" brand, the brand being already separated from the company.


At the end of the Civil War, an attempt was made to revive the company, but - as previously explained - it was not possible to continue along the same path. To sum up, Spain did not need luxury cars, but rather buses and trucks that were economical to buy and maintain. In those years, industrial vehicles were switching to the diesel cycle, an engine that the company did not have. As for aircraft engines, the company was also left behind, as competitors were already experimenting with turbines. To top it all off, the government of the time imposed an economic autarky so that neither parts nor machine tools could be imported.

In 1946, the company's last step was to sell its factories and industrial activities to the recently created ENASA, which belonged to the National Institute of Industry. INI, in turn, created the Pegaso brand in 1947 - last year marked the 70th anniversary of its creation. The first trucks produced by Pegaso were the last Hispano-Suiza. Years later, in 1951, the company created the Z-102 sports car, also a revolutionary sports car, but it had nothing to do with the Hispano-Suiza automobile factory.

The company assures that, despite the sale of factories and activities, it has always kept the ownership of the Hispano-Suiza brands and emblems. We remember that the emblem of the brand are two golden wings, in the center a wheel with golden spokes and, as a background, the Spanish flag at the top and the Swiss flag at the bottom. The mascot is a stork in flight in memory of the stork that was drawn on an air squadron that mounted its engines, appearing on its vehicles since 1915.


Years of silence

Since the change of management in 1936 and the sale of its factories and assets in 1946, the company "La Hispano-Suiza de Automóviles S.A." has not produced or designed any vehicle, nor has it even manufactured spare parts. All that remained of what was once a pioneering automotive brand was just the name. What the company has done since then is to organize events such as exhibitions or rallies in which the brand appeared. Some forty years after its closure, apart from the events mentioned above, the only activities that are recognized to the company is the transfer of their models to make models and an advertisement for Parker fountain pens.

On 26 September 1986 - eighty-two years after its creation - "La Hispano-Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles, S.A." obtained the trade name registration 111.027 with its full name: "La Hispano-Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles, S.A." for the activities of classes: 12 (manufacture of automobiles of all classes and systems), 35 (wholesale and retail sale in shops of automobiles of all classes and systems) and 37 (repair of automobiles of all classes and systems).

On the other hand, in the summary of the background of the judgment, it informs us that in 1990, another company called Grupo Hispano-Suiza S.A. already sued for revocation and invalidity of the trademark "Hispano-Suiza". The corresponding court declared "La Hispano-Suiza" and another mixed one in which "HS" appeared as invalid, issuing a final judgment in 1999, but it was not until 2009 when the cancellation of the registrations became effective. Therefore, the trademark "La Hispano-Suiza" expired that year.

Mazel Prototypes

At the Geneva International Motor Show in 2000, a prototype of a two-seater luxury supercar was presented under the name Hispano-Suiza HS21. It was actually a prototype of the company Mazel Ingenieros S.A., which wanted to show its level of design and engineering at an international show. It was actually based on an elongated chassis of a Renault Sport Spider, its interior was luxurious and its exterior had a very compact shape to which was added a grille in the style of the Hispano-Suiza vehicles. This prototype had no engine. They used the Hispano-Suiza name and logo with the prior permission of the company "La Hispano-Suiza de Automóviles S.A.", the only partner in the project.

The following year the K8, a four-door saloon almost 5 metres long and 2 metres wide, was presented at the same show. The appearance was pure lines trying to combine modernity with the classicism of the brand. It also had a large grille with the brand logo, like the previous model. This time it did have an engine, a 4.2 V8 naturally aspirated 360 hp, also had sequential gearbox and four-wheel drive. Finally, the HS 21 GTS was presented, a rolling prototype based on the HS 21 and designed to compete in the grand touring categories.

The engine was a 7.0 litre naturally aspirated 600 bhp mid-mounted engine with sequential gearbox, tubular aluminium chassis, carbon brakes and four-wheel drive. Its exterior was retouched to improve aerodynamics, so it lost the chrome grille, also the interior was no longer luxurious, Hispano-Suiza only remained the logo on the nose. Mazel no longer built more prototypes with the Hispano-Suiza brand, if you want to see them, all three are in the Museum of Automotive History of Salamanca, near the cathedrals, just in front of the Casa Lis, although you will like more other models, such as the classic Hispano-Suiza and Pegaso Z-102 of the collection.

The model of discord X10V

In 2008 two individuals applied for the registration of the Community trademark "Hispano-Suiza" and in 2009 for the national trademark of the same name. Between these two processes there were negotiations to share the X10V prototype project with La Hispano-Suiza, Fábrica de Automóviles S.A. which did not come to fruition. This prototype was presented alone by the company Delmar 04 at the Geneva Motor Show in 2010 with the Hispano-Suiza logo. It was based on an Audi R8 to which they had added two electric turbos to its engine that raised the power to 750 hp. Its exterior was very angular and the interior was luxurious. The price was also announced: 700,000 euros for this first model, the intention was to build another 900 hp hybrid later.

They also created the website with the domain: "www.hispanosuiza.de" instead of "lahispano-suiza.com". Hispano-Suiza de Automóviles S.A. sued Delmar 04 and two individuals -we'll call them the defendants for short- for misuse of the name and logo, and even launched a note on their website to clarify that they totally disassociated themselves from the project. When Delmar 04 received the lawsuit, what it did was to request the revocation of the trademark "Hispano-Suiza" and "La Hispano-Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles S.A.", because having contact with the classic company it knew the status of its trademarks; the war in court began. In September 2012, a court ruled in favour of the defendants because La Hispano-Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles S.A. had not been making effective use of the trademark, according to the judgement, since 1936.

In other words, it was not using the trademark for what it had been created for.

After the ruling, Hispano-Suiza appealed the judgment twice, first to the Barcelona Provincial Court and then to the Supreme Court, although only one of the defendants appealed to the Supreme Court. Last February 8, the First Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court ratified the first instance ruling: La Hispano-Suiza Fabrica de Automóviles S.A. lost the trademark "La Hispano-Suiza Fabrica de Automóviles S.A.", as well as confirming the loss of "Hispano-Suiza" for not using it since 1936 for the purpose for which it was created, a total of 74 years without use - with the seniority of this brand the magnitude of the years is immense in any case. Here is an extract from the sentence:

It was "car exhibitions at fairs, publishing articles, the founding of the Hispano-Suiza Club activities of the same, the intervention in events related to car collectors clubs and other products with the Hispano-Suiza brand, organization of rallies, nor transactions carried out by third parties at auctions". It also rejected that an agreement signed for the manufacture of antique miniature cars did not constitute proof of real and effective use, nor the license to use the trademark in favor of the Parker company for the production of an advertisement. It noted that the use of the mark would have been real and effective if it had been made publicly in the market sector in which the goods identified with the mark are marketed. And it noted that the counterclaimant itself had acknowledged that it did not manufacture, sell or repair automobiles.

As for the use of the logo - we recall the wings, the wheel in the center and the flags in the background - the Court ordered the defendants to pay 35,560 euros for unfair competition, since it could transfer the image of the historical trademark to the new one. In the first instance this was not the case, but in the final judgment it is so stated. The defendants can keep the "Hispano-Suiza" trademarks, but they cannot use its coat of arms.

But why can a trademark lapse?

A trademark is granted for a specific use, in a specific area and for a period of five years. If the company that registers the trademark proves that it continues to use it, the registration is maintained, but if more than five years go by without using it, it can lose the registration.

Something like this happened to TVR, a minority original UK brand. Since 2005 it has not produced any vehicles, so TVR Italia Srl - its Italian subsidiary - tried to expire the trademark in order to register it in its own name. TVR is still not producing any vehicles, however - and with a change of ownership - in 2015 TVR was given the green light for several reasons. Firstly, the expiry dates were not exactly met. As for the lack of production, TVR defended that it is a brand of sports cars with very specific characteristics and production on demand, that is, its production quantity will never be high, so having produced zero for a few years does not mean that such a company is not in business. On the other hand, he tried several times to return to production, he also kept information about his models and catalogues. In the plans of the current owner is to relaunch the brand this year, from here we wish them success.

Very similar was the case of Lambretta, Innocenti's scooter brand, competitor of Vespa. This brand was founded in 1947 and acquired in 1972 by the Indian government through the company Scooters India Limited. The company Brandconcern filed an application for partial revocation for lack of uninterrupted use for more than five years, not manufacturing for many years. After several trials, the trademark remained in the hands of Scooters India Limited, because apart from some formal defect when applying for revocation, although it did not produce, it did manufacture spare parts for Lambretta, so it was still in use.

Can a trademark be registered several times?

Yes, as long as they do not coincide in time, space or use. For us, Carrera is always linked to Porsche, for slot car enthusiasts it's a manufacturer and for those who like designer glasses, it's an Italian manufacturer. These brands have been around for a long time and are not usually confused. However, in 2007 an application was made to register the same trademark "Carrera" for electronic devices for the whole of Europe. Porsche objected because, according to the company, it could transfer the image of an already well-known brand to the new one. They wanted to prevent a video player or, even worse, a car radio from being associated with Porsche because it had the Carrera brand, giving it a value that it had not earned. In January 2016, the Stuttgart-based brand was proved right.

Can any trademark be registered?

The trademark to be registered must have a distinctive character to identify a product or service, it must not be ambiguous, and it should have a relevant perception. For example, we could not register "house", because it is such a widely used term that it should not be registered, because its use would be restricted by the company that registers it, although we could use it, but without exclusivity. This is the case of the application in 2013 for the registration of "Competition" by Volkswagen for everything related to vehicles, models, sale and modification of the same. Apparently, they were looking for an identifier for their sporty range in the style of BMW's Motorsport or Nissan's Nismo. In 2015 they were refused on the grounds that it was an ambiguous term, they will have to find a name with character and distinctiveness in order to register it.

Will they be able to sell the brand to a third party or the previous owner?

The answer is yes and no. Yes because a trademark can be sold, of course. For example, Rolls-Royce plc, the aircraft engine manufacturer, sold the "Rolls-Royce" trade mark and the "RR" logo to BMW for £40 million. Not in this case, as it would generate new litigation. If we try to declare a trademark lapsed it is to use it, not to sell it, that could be done by the original company without further ado. In case of applying to resell it, the trademark registration can be withdrawn for "bad faith". In 2007, a private individual related to PSA, applied for registration of the Simca trademark. We recall that this trademark was founded in France in 1934, then passed into the hands of Chrysler in 1970 in its European adventure and was repurchased, in batch with the rest of the European companies of the American, by Peugeot in 1978.

The Simca brand was used until 1980, its engines were also produced until 1991. All this must have been known to this gentleman, because working for PSA he could not claim ignorance and say that he had invented the name and that it coincided with an earlier brand. Worse still, when PSA invited him in 2008 to give up the trademark, he demanded financial compensation to do so. So, PSA deduced, the registration of the trademark was to improve the economic situation of this person, there was no real will to use the trademark for what it was registered for. In 2014 the Simca brand returned to PSA.

What is the next step for the new Hispano-Suiza?

Well, if the defendants have kept the registration of the trademark "Hispano-Suiza" and "La Hispano-Suiza, Fábrica de Automóviles S.A." in classes 12, 14 and 37 they must produce, sell or repair some type of automobile. They can go five years without doing so, according to trademark law. It is easy to go that long without producing, developing a new vehicle takes time. If those 5 years pass and no vehicle of the "Hispano-Suiza" brand has been produced, another actor will surely try to expire it again. If this is the case, it must be demonstrated that, at least, an attempt has been made to produce it, showing prototypes, advertisements, sketches or any material or document that justifies the possession of the trademark registration. As we have said, they cannot resell the trademark just like that, they could lose the registration for bad faith, for the reasons explained in the previous point.

It seems that the series is not over yet and I am afraid that we will see new lawsuits but no new Hispano-Suiza.

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