The classic Mini

The classic mini is one of the most recognisable cars ever produced. 64 years ago, in August 1959, the first images of the mini were revealed to the press. The small size, the boxy shape and the distinctive round headlights, contributed to the mini becoming the most popular British car ever made, with over 5 million cars sold worldwide.

The British fictional character ‘Mr Bean’ drove one of the most famous minis. The recognisable car was a citron-green colour with a black bonnet, and Mr Bean drove it around in a somewhat reckless and erratic manner which no doubt added to the vehicle’s fame. The fact that Mr Bean did not use dialogue in the comedy sketches meant that the character became popular even in non-English speaking countries around the world, and thus so did the humble mini.

The mini is also known for its go-kart like handling. This is partly due to the design of the chassis, with the wheels located very near the corners of the body of the car, and partly due to the unusual rubber cone suspension (instead of the conventional steel springs).

A combination of the mini’s ability to be recognised and liked by the majority of the public, and the car’s drivability make it a pleasure to be in, and make it a car with a very high ‘smiles per miles’ rating (based on both the driver’s smiles and the other road users’ smiles!).

It is therefore not surprising that this small car has a large amount of IP. Over the years, the rights to manufacture the classic mini in the UK have transferred from BMC, to British Leyland, to Rover. The ‘Mini’ name was then transferred to the BMW group, who currently own the rights to the name.

Earlier this year, news emerged of a Chinese design application (see below) filed by Beijing Estech Technology Co. The design of the car is very similar to the classic mini, however it is an amalgamation of various models. It appears to generally be a Mk1 mini’s front end on a Mk3 mini’s body shell.

This is evident in that the car in the design application contains no bonnet lip, a moustache grille and corner bumper bars, all which are features of the Mk 1 mini; but does not contain the external door hinges, which are a recognisable feature of the Mk 1 minis.

Observant readers will also notice that the exhaust is missing. This is because the car has an electric powertrain. The charging port is discretely hidden under where the fuel filler cap would be on a traditional mini. Details of where the motor(s) and batteries are located are unclear, however as the car appears to be of similar proportions as the original mini, there should be space inside for four adults.

As shown, this particular design application also contains shaded drawings which show contrast. Design protection seeks to protect the appearance of a product, and so the type of drawings submitted is important for the potential scope of protection. Generally, it is recommended to submit black and white line drawings to maximise the scope of protection for your design.

It has been reported that competitors are keeping a close eye on this particular application, to ensure that this does not impact their freedom-to-operate. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see that companies are still battling over rights to a small British car designed over 60 years ago.

This article was written by Dr Alasdair Mackenzie, a European Patent Attorney at HGF. Above is an image of Alasdair’s mini cooper (right) parked next to his colleague Neil McKechnie’s mini cooper (left). Alasdair has always been interested in cars, and built his mini cooper during the start of the first Covid lockdown.