Legislators are again proposing to impose limits on OEM collision part design patents to allow for aftermarket part manufacturers to produce a wider range of parts. U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, have introduced legislation, the Promoting Automotive Repair, Trade and Sales (PARTS) Act, which the authors say would "ensure consumers have options when they repair their cars to their original state after an accident." Lofgren most recently rolled out similar legislation in 2010.
The PARTS Act:
Amends current U.S. design patent law, reducing the period during which car companies can enforce their design patents on collision repair parts against alternative suppliers from 14 to 2.5 years.
Allows independent manufacturers and distributors to manufacture, test, market and distribute parts pre-sale without infringing upon the design patents.
Allows alternative suppliers to enter the market after 2.5 years so they can begin selling American drivers alternative collision repair parts.
Several aftermarket auto part and insurance organizations support the legislation.
Eileen Sottile, executive director of the Quality Parts Coalition (QPC), said, "The Quality Parts Coalition praises U.S. Representatives Issa and Lofgren for their leadership in protecting the rights of American drivers. We urge Congress to pass this bill so that consumers can continue to have access to affordable, quality alternative replacement parts."
The QPC noted that on average, competition in the collision parts industry saves consumers approximately $1.5 billion a year, according to economists at Microeconomic Consulting & Research Associates.
Meanwhile, the American Insurance Association (AIA) also voiced its support for the PARTS Act.
"This legislation is necessary to protect consumers from $1.5 billion in additional annual repair costs," said Melissa Shelk, AIA vice president for federal affairs. "Drivers simply don’t deserve to be hit in the wallet after they have been hit on the road."
The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America also said it "strongly supports" the bill, and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) also is backing the legislation.
"Competition is the best form of consumer protection against excessive prices, and the vibrant aftermarket parts industry in this country has provided it for decades," said Jimi Grande, senior vice president of federal and political affairs for NAMIC. "Without this legislation, more and more patents will be filed and competition for aftermarket parts will dwindle, removing options for consumers and increasing their costs."
In the past, groups opposing similar legislation have said that "copycat" parts are harmful to OEMs and consumers alike.
At a 2010 hearing, Damian Porcari, director, Enforcement and Licensing, Ford Global Technologies, said, "The copyists want to eliminate design patent protection because that’s what they make. As soon as their business model includes engines, brakes and airbags, we will likely hear the call for the elimination of patent protection on all types of replacement parts. And it won’t stop with cars. The denial of intellectual property rights will always reduce copiers’ costs."