SEMA eNews Vol. 15, No. 32, August 9, 2012

Auto Industry Collides Over Federal Crash Parts Legislation

A U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing on a bill that would allow companies to market collision-repair parts without infringing a design patent once a vehicle has been marketed for two-and-a-half years. Under current law, a design patent covers the ornamental design for an object having practical utility for a 14-year term. 

At issue is the recent practice of many automakers to obtain design patents for individual vehicle parts associated with collision repairs, such as fenders, lamps, hoods, bumpers and grilles. Historically, the auto companies have sought design patents for the car’s overall design rather than individual parts. A design patent allows a company the right to exclude others from copying the product or, alternatively, to license the rights. 

The legislation included a complete design patent exemption for replacement parts when it was first introduced in 2010. The bill sponsors are now proposing a 30-month compromise approach. 

Representatives for the vehicle manufacturers, dealers and auto workers claim that the auto companies invest billions of dollars each year to develop and patent the part designs and are then seeking to protect that investment through rights available under current law.  Representatives for the collision parts market counter that the auto companies are seeking to eliminate competition for “cosmetic replacement parts” that had traditionally not been protected by a design patent, thereby raising consumer repair costs and insurance premiums. 

For additional information about the design patent bill, contact Stuart Gosswein at stuartg@sema.org. For general information about protecting intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyright, etc.), visit www.sema.org/IPR