For the corporate head honchos, it’s a trademark, an intellectual property, a copyright. For every other soul that exists on the planet, a Jeep is the quintessential multi purpose, go anywhere, distinctive off-road vehicle that doesn’t get marred by any obstacle.
Till the term “SUV” was not coined by a marketing whizkid in the US, every off-road vehicle was colloquially referred to as a Jeep. Be it the FJ made by Toyota or the Gypsy (a.k.a. Jimny / Samurai abroad) made by Suzuki in India. (Legend goes that the name Gypsy was chosen as it sounded very close to Jeep)
The ongoing battle between Mahindra North America (MANA) and Fiat Chrysler America (FCA) raises interest questions. While FCA might be the owners of the Jeep brand and the round headlamp – slat grille fascia, one can’t simply deny that almost all the body-on-frame SUVs that exist around the world are either direct descendants of the original Willys army vehicle or have been heavily inspired by them. For instance, Mahindra has been making Jeep derived vehicles non-stop for the last 70-odd years and unlike FCA, the company has always been under one family since day one.
The Jeep DNA is a part of automotive landscape across the globe. It’s not American anymore. Every country has made the Jeep its own or developed its own homegrown version or made a licenced version for decades.
Let me share a list and this is just the tip of the iceberg:
So what does this tell us? The licensed versions mere made for decades and some are still being made even after the licence expired. The earlier owners of brand Jeep were just not bothered as their market was largely untouched. They never really took any strong legal action on these so-called “copies”.
This has made this design so ubiquitous just like say a toothbrush or a bicycle that it would be a little weird for one company to claim that it is the rightful owner of the design. It’s just like Mercedes-Benz doesn’t sue every 4-wheeler maker because Karl Benz invented the automobile or Piaggio or Bajaj doesn’t sue every 3-wheeler manufacturer that exists today.
Note that these so-called “copies” have built Jeep’s legacy across the globe and the brand has nonchalantly used that heritage whenever it officially entered that particular country. Which brings us to an interesting juncture! What if tomorrow one of the makers listed above create a neo-retro version of their “jeep” that looks exactly like the first generation they made for years? Does Jeep really have the moral right to stop them? Do let us know your thoughts.