There were many questions from readers about whether Lotus could patent [a certain] idea. A senior [Formula-1] engineer has kindly stepped in to clear up the question of patenting F1 technical ideas for readers. His explanation is below:
The lack of patents in F1 is quite simple. It’s because if a team takes out a patent on a design, that then locks in an advantage the other teams cannot access. Therefore the other teams will simply vote it out through the FIA Technical Working Group process by the end of the season in question.Meanwhile it appears that not only does the FIA consider the Lotus idea legal, but other teams including Ferrari are already working on their own version. It will be one of the must have gizmos at the start of the 2012 season.
By keeping a new design in the game, a team can gamble that they can do a better job on a design than another team. Examples like seamless shift gearbox & inertia dampers are good ones. If these were patented by F1 teams, then they would have been wiped out.
Lotus has applied for some patents on ideas like using mercury inside dampers, but this could be in order to sell the technology to a wider market rather than grab an initiative in F1.