Canada: Le Secret De La Victoire En F1!

Auteurs : Pierre Nguyen and Fortunat Nadima Nadima

La forme de propriété intellectuelle la plus répandue, c'est secret? On oublie souvent de nommer le secret industriel parmi les formes de propriété intellectuelle, mais il est partout, partout, partout. Grâce à la belle plume de mon collègue Fortunat, voici un bel exemple de son utilisation judicieuse :

Rien n'annonce mieux le début de la saison estivale que l'arrivée de vedettes et fans de Formule 1 à Montréal pour le week-end du Grand Prix.

Des montants astronomiques sont investis pour la compétition intense qui attirera les foules au circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. Et non, pas seulement pour les salons de l'automobile et les festivités en compagnies de vedettes locales et internationales. La F1 sert avant tout de laboratoire d'innovations où pétroliers et grands constructeurs automobiles investissent énormément de ressources en recherche et développement pour trouver des technologies novatrices qui permettront aux bolides de F1 de gagner quelques secondes sur les pistes et, surtout, qui trouveront peut-être un jour application commerciale.

Si la tendance des deux dernières années se maintient, l'écurie Mercedes s'emparera encore du podium. Ceux d'entre vous qui sont adeptes de F1 sont sûrement bien au courant de la domination de Mercedes et des critiques qu'elle suscite quant à la prévisibilité des résultats et à la qualité du spectacle.

Sans rien enlever au mérite des talentueux pilotes de Mercedes, on peut expliquer la longueur d'avance du constructeur allemand sur ses concurrents en regardant la manière dont l'information sur les innovations techniques est partagée dans le monde de la F1 : elle n'est PAS partagée.

À ce sujet, dans un billet précédent intitulé Formula 1: The Race to Patent?, mes collègues Judith Robinson et Alain Deschamps expliquent l'absence de brevets dans cette industrie où il est bien plus avantageux de préserver la confidentialité de la moindre nouveauté technologique qui procure un avantage compétitif sur les écuries rivales. Le cas Mercedes illustre parfaitement cette réalité.

Les bolides Mercedes sont, entre autres, dotés d'un « drag-reduction system » (DRS) nettement plus avancé que ceux des autres écuries. En gros, les DRS, qui sont autorisés depuis 2011 pour les dépassements, consistent à réajuster l'aileron arrière pour en réduire la traînée et donc augmenter la vitesse du bolide dans certaines zones du circuit. Les redoutables et controversés DRS de Mercedes se distinguent par des trous situés dans les montants latéraux de l'aileron qui facilitent l'écoulement de l'air entre ces deux montants lors de l'activation du DRS. Or, il se trouve que leur design relativement simple et peu coûteux est aussi particulièrement difficile à copier.

Alors comment protéger une telle invention?

Demander une protection par brevet reviendrait à conclure le marché suivant avec le législateur : l'octroi d'un monopole temporaire de 20 ans sur l'invention en contrepartie d'une divulgation publique et suffisante de l'invention. Or, dans la mesure où les concurrents disposeront d'assez d'information pour très vite reproduire et améliorer l'invention, celle-ci ne procurera plus d'avantage compétitif sur les pistes. La compétition se transporterait vers les tribunaux avec des poursuites pour contrefaçon de brevet.

Dans un tel contexte, autant attendre d'avoir développé un système plus innovateur pour les voitures F1 avant de breveter une invention désuète sur les pistes mais commercialisable auprès des consommateurs. Plutôt que d'investir temps et argent dans des demandes de brevets, les équipes de F1 préfèrent donc recourir au secret industriel, et investir des sommes faramineuses pour préserver la confidentialité de leurs nouveautés technologiques. Ça semble fonctionner, en ce qu'aucune écurie ne semble avoir de DRS aussi performant que celui de Mercedes!

Ainsi, même sans monopole officiel sur l'exploitation de sa technologie, Mercedes pourra monopoliser le podium tant et aussi longtemps que ses concurrents ne trouveront pas de solutions égales ou plus performantes.

La F1 est loin d'être le seul domaine au sein duquel les entreprises choisissent de recourir au secret industriel comme principale stratégie pour protéger leurs renseignements commerciaux les plus précieux. Au-delà des exemples bien connus de l'algorithme de recherche de Google ou de la recette du Coca-Cola, le secret industriel est omniprésent. Presque toutes les entreprises ont recours à cette méthode extrêmement utile, que ce soit par des ententes de confidentialité avec des employés et partenaires commerciaux, par la création de mots de passe pour contrôler l'accès à des documents, ou par des mécanismes plus avancés comme le cryptage de données. Notre prochain billet traitera des nouveaux recours civils disponibles aux États-Unis pour les victimes d'appropriation illicite de secrets industriels.


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