The automotive sector is undergoing major shifts. Today’s fast-changing world means that dealer and repair networks are being restructured, leading to the gradual disappearance of traditional distribution methods and the constant amendment of EU regulations. The increasing demand for electric cars and car sharing as well as the development of an online services market in and around vehicles has led to an increase in new suppliers and new revenue streams. Thanks to specific sector knowledge, Houthoff’s experienced Automotive Team understands this new playing field.
"Broad range of expertise, handling contentious and non-contentious trade mark, patent and copyright issues, with a particularly strong focus on the pharmaceutical, automotive and media industries."Chambers Global, Intellectual Property: General (2017 Edition)
Our expertise in the automotive sector
To be ready for the future, manufacturers are not only being forced to adapt the products they have developed but also to rapidly develop new services. These changes give rise to questions. New forms of strategic partnerships in the area of sustainability and the introduction of new sales channels are adding to the uncertainty. Manufacturers and distributors engage Houthoff to guide them smoothly and efficiently through these major changes.
Suppliers in the automotive sector can get caught up in complex questions concerning omni-channel distribution, re-organisations or publicity on the performance of their products. In such cases, they ask our specialist Automotive Team for advice and, when necessary, for representation in legal proceedings. Companies that develop innovative modes of transport, such as autonomous and semi-autonomous cars, often come up against legal and commercial challenges. They engage our firm as a sparring partner. Manufacturers and other players in this market are regularly faced with issues regarding competition and privacy, including big-data disputes. They turn to our Automotive Team for assistance because they know that they have the in-depth expertise to guide them through these issues.
The many developments in the national and international automotive sectors are creating uncertainty. Houthoff removes this uncertainty and ensures that our clients’ activities remain in line with the applicable laws and regulations, and anticipate changes to these obligations that might be coming down the tracks. Our Automotive Team is familiar with fast-moving markets, and they work closely with other specialists in areas such as company law, intellectual property law, employment law, tax matters, criminal law and tax law. At Houthoff, we support our clients and help them succeed when it really matters.
In 2016 KwikFit launched a campaign in which it alleged that the 'KwikFit Brand Service' (Kwikfit Merkbeurt) was always 30% cheaper than service carried out by authorised repairers. In doing so, it made use of the trademark rights (logos) of many car manufacturers.
On behalf of 18 car manufacturers, Houthoff challenged the validity of the KwikFit campaign. Following discussions with the fast fitter, KwikFit gave up its claims and ceased the use of the logos.
Early 2017, Profile launced a campaign in which it alleged that 'Profile Brand Service' (Profile Merkonderhoud) was much cheaper (up to 28%) than the service of the authorised repairers. It did not use and trademark rights of car manufacturers.
Again, Houthoff acted on behalf of 18 car manufacturers and made an end to the Profile campaign, as Profile was unable to demonstrate that it was always much cheaper than the authorised repairers.
Car importers usually appoint two types of repairers: those that also sell new vehicles on the basis of a dealer agreement and stand-alone repairers, that only repair vehicles. Obviously, the temptation for the latter to also sell new vehicles is big. In a recent case, where a Hyundai repairer sold new vehicles without a dealer agreement, the importer terminated the repairer agreement for cause. The repairer subsequently challenged the validity of the termination, arguing that he acted as an intermediary. Houthoff successfully defended the position of the Hyundai importer; the termination was upheld.
Defending a motor vehicle importer against several claims of independent garage businesses for access to its official repairer network and damages for alleged infringements of competition law.
Houthoff advised Hitachi Capital Corporation on the acquisition of all the shares in the capital of Noordlease Holding B.V., a Groningen-based company that provides high quality auto lease solutions for both private and business clients. The total fleet of Noordlease consists of more than 10,000 cars. The transaction is part of Hitachi's strategy to expand its vehicle solution business in continental Europe.