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Rolls-Royce accused of stealing configurator software

Spectre of fines looms

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is fighting a legal claim that it stole trade secrets related to the software behind its online vehicle configurator technology, which allows buyers to customise their cars virtually prior to purchase.

The case, filed by the German software firm Topalsson, alleges that Rolls-Royce unlawfully terminated a contract in 2020 to deliver configurator technology — something against which Rolls-Royce plans to launch a counterclaim.

In parallel to the case in London, which will go before the High Court next month, Topalsson is also attempting to have Rolls-Royce’s parent company, BMW Group, prosecuted in a criminal case in Munich on the grounds of copyright infringement.

The software company claims to have seen its configurator technology in use in Rolls-Royce showrooms some time after the contracts between Topalsson and Rolls-Royce had been terminated. 

Among the BMW and Rolls-Royce executives accused of breaching German criminal law on copyright infringement is Rolls-Royce’s chief financial officer, Timo Posner.

What was Topalsson contracted to do for Rolls-Royce?

Munich-based Topalsson was hired by Rolls-Royce in 2018 to create configuration software for the Rolls-Royce Ghost saloon, which would allow customers to specify the colours, options and interiors for their £300,000 cars, either via a display screen in a showroom or remotely through a tablet device.

The agreement was terminated by Rolls-Royce following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, something which Topalsson believes represents a breach of contract, and, as per the case in London, Topalsson is suing Rolls-Royce to the tune of €6.4m (£5.6m) for work completed but unpaid.

Rolls-Royce, however, is demanding some €18.6m (£16.25m) in compensation from Topalsson as part of its counterclaim, which alleges that Topalsson repeatedly failed to hit deadlines throughout the project, something which forced Rolls-Royce to incur the extra expense of finding an alternative supplier.

“Topalsson’s performance was entirely unsatisfactory from the outset and [Rolls-Royce] was … forced to terminate the contract,” said Rolls-Royce in a statement.

“Rolls-Royce has defended the claim, which it considers to be without merit, and has made a counterclaim for the substantial losses resulting from Topalsson’s failure to perform.”

BMW has also hit out at Topalsson, suggesting that the criminal case pending in Germany is part of a strategy to force Rolls-Royce to drop its counterclaim in the London High Court.

“We consider Topalsson’s behaviour to be an attempt to pressure us to reach a commercial agreement on the pending proceedings in England,” said a BMW spokesman.

The case in London is expected to run throughout October.

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