A bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow companies to market collision-repair parts without infringing a design patent after 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 automobile manufacturers to obtain design patents for individual vehicle parts associated with collision repairs, such as fenders, lamps, hoods, bumpers and grilles. Historically, automakers 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.
SEMA is reviewing the legislation. A couple of years ago, a similar House bill was introduced that would have provided a total exclusion for replacement parts. The bill received one hearing. The auto companies noted that they had invested enormous amounts of money in developing the part designs only to have them copied in a matter of hours and were seeking to protect that investment through rights available under current law. Opponents countered that auto companies were seeking to eliminate competition and that the design patents raised prices for consumers in repair costs and insurance premiums. The current legislation seeks to craft a compromise approach.
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