Orange, Intel, and a fast car furore

Richard Noble Richard Noble

It is a story involving a major mobile phone company, a global technology brand, and an exciting British project to build the world's fastest car and inspire a new generation of young engineers. Intel, Orange and Richard Noble's Bloodhound SSC car sound like natural bedfellows - but Mr Noble claims the two companies have used his intellectual property without permission, and put the project's future in doubt.

In the 1990s the Thrust SSC broke the sound barrier - now the Bloodhound supersonic car aims to go faster than 1,000 MPH. The project has attracted a loyal community of fans and supporters, including thousands of schoolchildren.

Last week a television advert for Orange's new San Diego mobile phone, powered by an Intel processor, was broadcast for the first time. It featured a supersonic car which looked very similar to the Thrust SSC - so much so that many fans assumed that it was part of a sponsorship deal, done with Mr Noble's agreement and earning a healthy fee for the project.

Not so. "We were absolutely gobsmacked when we saw the ad," Richard Noble told me last night. He said they'd had hundreds of messages. "From all over the world people congratulated me, people assumed we were getting paid for it."

But why was he so sure that the car in the advert was modelled on his? "There is only one car in the world like that. It's absolutely unique. The whole ad is about supersonic performance and ours is the only supersonic car."

The irony is that Intel is a sponsor of the Bloodhound project, though Mr Noble says the firm had not been involved in the Thrust. Orange, on the other hand, had talked back in the 1990s about sponsoring the Thrust, but that had come to nothing. Neither had ever discussed using either car in an advert - or paying to do so.

The jet-propelled car 'Thrust 2' driven by Richard Noble, breaking the British land speed record at RAF Greenham Common airbase in Berkshire, 1980 Thrust 2 driven by Richard Noble, breaking the British land speed record in 1980

The Bloodhound team has lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority, but that has already been rejected because intellectual property disputes are not part of the regulator's remit. Now Mr Noble is talking to his lawyers about his next move.

"Our only asset is the iconography," he said when I asked him why any of this mattered. He explained that the project only survived on donations from the public, coupled with money from sponsors. "If this is allowed to proceed then these big companies will think they don't need to go to the expense of sponsoring. They can just take what they want."

I put Richard Noble's accusations to Intel and Orange. They produced a joint statement explaining that the advert featured a superfast car to illustrate just how fast the device is:

"Our production team researched many different styles of superfast vehicles in the run up to making the ad, but we chose to develop and film our own Orange branded land speed car. Since it has aired, we've become aware of comments made by the Bloodhound Project team, and would like to make it clear that the advert and handset are not associated with, endorsed by or otherwise connected to Sir Richard Noble or the Bloodhound SSC team. However we would like to wish them all the best in their land speed quest."

I'm not sure that Richard Noble - who hasn't been knighted as far as I know - will accept those good wishes. He has a missionary zeal about the potential of his project, pointing out that more than 5,000 schools have joined the Bloodhound education programme, which aims to give children a sense that engineering can be an exciting and rewarding career. "This country needs engineers," he told me," and Bloodhound will deliver that."

It all might seem a relatively trivial affair, but Intel and Orange should be aware that Mr Noble has friends in high places. It was a call from a government advisor which alerted me to this story. He seemed rather cross that a project which brought together so much British engineering expertise was being treated in this way by two powerful technology firms.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    As car came from carriage, which was pulled by horses, arguing about power through the wheels seems a bit odd. But as auto-mobiles have always used motive power transmitted to wheels. I've always felt that using jets or rockets was 'cheating a little'

    So I understand Gort2012's point of view in that respect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    @52 THe realist


    The driving impulse for the car is the force that is needed to generate the motion in the direction of travel.

    This force is generated from the contact point from the wheels and the "road". If you don't have fricition the car won't move

    A rocket "car" creates an impulse by expelling exhaust.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Gort2012, can you please return when you know what you are talking about. The extreme majority of cars do not create driving force through the wheels, yet we call them cars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Has anyone considered the fact that Intel and Orange want there to be a court case. just think of the amount of free publicity they will get in the media.

    I have a suspicion that this was the aim from the beginning. What is the old saying?

    'There's no such thing as bad publicity'

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    'Mr Noble has friends in high places',... odd then that he got royally shafted by the MoD over HOTOL.

    While the car in the advert is very similar to Thrust SSC, I don't recall the real vehicle being driven by a Ninja. I'm also sure if that Ninja was driving an Ice Cream van, Mr Whippy wouldn't be as litigious. This could be a PR disaster is Noble sues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    "24, I hardly think you are a scientist or engineer - An engineer would love the challenge of making a wheel that doesn't simply tear itself apart at the target speed"

    An engineer's job is to find the best solution possible. In this case it is to leave the wheels off.

    A wheel in this "car" doesn't carry a driving force. And needs v. few uses - it's expensive but not challenging

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    "@Gort2012 - It is sad you think this should be at least be interested in the inspiration aspect"

    The inspirational aspect is my complaint. A test with no practical applications, no new science.

    This is not inspirational science - it is a slow rocket that has had wheels added to it. It is not truly a car because the driving force doesn't go through the wheels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The design of the car in the ad mirrors many of the UNIQUE features of Thrust SSC. The result being it resembles the specific shape and profile of Thrust SSC so closely that it is very hard for the observer to assume that the vehicle is not Thrust SSC.

    Out of all the shapes they could have used they chose this particular one. They are trading on the back of someone else's achievement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I think the ASA should be shut down if they cannot get involved, they are supposed to regulate adverts and they say they do not get involved with adverts that breach IP then really there is no point in wasting money keeping that Quango going.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Graphis, are you then telling us that you cannot easily tell the difference between the thrust SSC and the Bomerang SSC? These alone are using different ways to achieve SSC, one brute force and the other better streamlining. So much for similarities.

    According to you Model T-Ford=Land Rover= Ferrari

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    34. Skybird137

    Not so. They may look "different" in details, but essentially they're all the same. This is why you've never seen Ford sue Toyota, for example: a car is a car is a car. Any supersonic car is going to face the same physical limitations as any other supersonic car, and thus have similar engineered solutions. Conditions force design similarities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Perhaps instead of arguing over this issue like a bunch school children, all sides should sit down and use this project to fund and inspire the future development of eco and business friendly cars, and mobile devices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    You can take the monkey out of the tree
    But you can't take the tree out of the monkey

    Something which cost Mozart his life

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Intel and Orange should get on their knees and apologise politely
    Then donate a large sum of hard cash

    Corporates wonder why they can't find cutting edge talent.. then they scam some of the most amazing cutting edge talent around

    Most really smart people avoid corporations, only the -money hungry- and the -desperate to be famous- clamber on board

    Steve Jobs did so well because he was in charge

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    He's finding out about reality

    Concorde was banned by the USA because of jealousy
    Frank Whittle, who had the jet engine patent, was robbed by the British Government

    Engineers who excel get bumped by the system

    He's pretty much the last of a breed of British engineering who excel at what they do

    Same old story though, he'll get done

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    "I'm not sure that Richard Noble - who hasn't been knighted as far as I know".. obviously don't know a lot. Do they mean Sir Richard Noble 'OBE' ????? in the same way as they mean Andy Green 'OBE'

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Why has everyone become so obsessed with Bloodhound? The car in the advert clearly looks like the ThrustSSC. despite the Bloodhound color scheme.
    I saw the advert on the tube today, and thought "hmm.. how is the Thrust used without a mention of sponsorship or even its name... also, its 'a bit old'..." (meaning no offence of course).
    Misleading reporting is starting to get on my nerves...

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Comment 24, I hardly think you are a scientist or engineer - An engineer would love the challenge of making a wheel that doesn't simply tear itself apart at the target speed, let alone anything else on the entire project.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I was lucky enough to see the original Thrust SSC at the 1998 Farnborough Airshow. When I saw that ad last week, I too thought it was very similar, and knowing how hard Richard Noble fought to get sponsorship for SSC as well as Bloodhound, its a surprise that Orange and Intel aren't putting their hands in their pockets and supporting it better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Once again the big guys in cloud cuckoo land have tried to steal a march on a project that has been set up purely to develop an understanding of the importance of engineering and mathematics in our younger generation. We do not need to cheapen the adventure that is Bloodhound by associating it with cheap, frivolous garbage from 2nd rate companies that want to try and jump on the bandwagon.


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