SEMA eNews Vol. 13, No. 12, March 25, 2010

House Judiciary Committee Considers Design Patents for Auto Replacement Parts

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on legislation that would create an exemption to allow companies to market collision repair parts without infringing a design patent. 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 automobile manufacturers 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 received design patents for the car’s overall design rather than individual parts. The design patent allows a company exclusive rights to exclude others from copying the product or to license the rights.

Primary arguments raised at the hearing were that auto companies have invested enormous amounts of money in developing the part designs only to have them copied in a matter of hours, and that the companies were seeking to protect that investment through rights available under current law. Opponents countered that the companies are seeking to eliminate competition and that the design patents raise prices for consumers in repair costs and insurance premiums.

The hearing included discussion of a compromise approach whereby the automakers could secure a design patent with a three-year exclusive term or, alternatively, be required to offer a license at a reasonable fee.

For additional information, contact Stuart Gosswein.

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