The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Monday heard from consumer advocates and industry experts on the “Access to Repair Parts Act” (H.R. 3059/S.1368) legislation that would amend U.S. patent code so that it wouldn’t be an act of design patent infringement to manufacture or distribute alternative repair parts for the purpose of repairing a vehicle to its original appearance.
Advocates of the legislation, including the Quality Parts Coalition (QPC) and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), say it will guarantee access to affordable alternative replacement parts and curb what they claim are attempts by OEMs to monopolize the marketplace.
Groups opposing the legislation include the Automotive Service Association (ASA), Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, American Automotive Policy Council, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Intellectual Property Owners Association, National Association of Manufacturers and National Automobile Dealers Association.
The QPC estimates that alternative crash parts save consumers 26 to 50 percent off the cost of OEM parts, totaling around $1.5 billion in savings over the last 60 years. The group says it’s concerned that recent design patents on crash parts obtained by OEMs for bumpers, fenders and hoods could give the automakers total control of the market.
Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), testified on behalf of the CFA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, predicting at the hearing that a lack of competition in the crash parts market would drive up the number of total losses and increase repair costs.
Eileen A. Sottile, executive director of the QPC, added, “Our members and supporters span the spectrum of motorist to aftermarket employee and from insurance agent to retired senior. At a time when our nation is just beginning to regain its economic footing, it is increasingly important that we put all safeguards in place to protect the cornerstones of competition and consumerism.”
ASA and other groups opposing the legislation say it makes no assurances for the quality and safety of non-OEM parts and would deny businesses the ability to rightfully protect their intellectual property.
“Manufacturers of unlicensed automobile parts have to meet only one basic threshold, to produce a copy that looks similar to an original part,” ASA and several other associations wrote in a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees in November 2009. “Those who produce such parts incur no costs attributable to original design, research and development and most importantly, product safety testing. Accordingly, the manufacturer of the original product for whom such unlicensed replacement parts are made does not know how these parts will perform and how their use will impact the quality and integrity of the original product.”
QPC Challenges ASA’s Stance on Crash Parts Patent Bill
Quality Parts Coalition
ASA’s legislative Web site, Taking the Hill
U.S. House May Soon Consider Crash Part Patent Bill