Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 40

FIXED OPS JOURNAL

CRASH PARTS CLASH

 Aftermarket parts makers, insurers make another run at OEM patents

A

JIM HENRY

foj@autonews.com

bill back before Congress would reduce the time automakers could
enforce design patents on crash
parts such as bumpers, hoods
and fenders to 30 months from 15 years.
The legislation would enable aftermarket
parts makers to produce precise copies much
sooner. But automakers claim the reduced
patent protection would be unfair because
they spend so much money on research and
development for their parts programs.
Trade lobbies for the aftermarket parts industry, independent service shops and insurance companies, along with some consumer
groups, support the proposed Promoting
Automotive Repair, Trade and Sales Act, or
PARTS Act.
Bipartisan sponsors introduced a revived version of the measure in the House and Senate
this year; no hearings are scheduled. It is the
fifth try since a bill along similar lines was introduced in 2009, according to congressional records.
Previous versions died in each house of Congress without a vote of the chamber's judiciary
committee.
The bill's advocates say shorter design patents for the most frequently replaced crash
parts would make less-expensive aftermarket
parts available sooner, and create more competition to consumers' benefit.
"If someone chooses to go to a dealer and
use OEM parts, that's fine with us," says Sandy
Bass-Cors, executive director of the Coalition
for Auto Repair Equality, or CARE, a lobbying
group in Alexandria, Va. "We just think consumers should have affordable options."

Property claims
The bill's opponents include automakers,
many of their Tier 1 suppliers and the National Automobile Dealers Association and other
dealer lobbies.
Over the years, these groups have invoked
intellectual property rights to help block similar legislation.
They argue that design patents for crash
parts should continue to last 15 years - the
standard length for such patents in all industries. Before a change in patent law that took

PAGE 40

AUGUST 2017

Up for debate
Proposed legislation would greatly
reduce automakers' design patents
on crash parts. These are arguments
for and against the bill.

PRO
 Affordability: Because consumers

pay more for factory parts, cheaper
aftermarket parts should be
available sooner.
 Competition: Automakers enjoy an
effective monopoly on exterior
parts.
 Overprotection: Congress intended
design patents to prevent
automakers from copying overall
vehicle designs, rather than to
protect the design of individual parts.

CON
 Intellectual property: Automakers

are entitled to patent protection of
their crash parts as well as overall
vehicle design and elaborate
internal systems.
 Safety: The quality of even
relatively simple exterior parts
affects how a vehicle performs on
government-mandated crash tests.
 Return on investment: Automakers
spend billions of dollars annually on
r&d. Design patents that last 15
years give car companies more
time to sell their designs and
recover the expense of developing
parts.

effect in May 2015, the standard term for design patents was 14 years.
Car companies and their allies also question
the safety, performance and durability of aftermarket parts.
"Our members invest $100 billion globally
in research and development every year," says

Daniel Gage, a spokesman for the Alliance of
Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group in
Washington.
"There are 30,000 components in a car and
they all rely on each other," Gage told Fixed
Ops Journal. "After you have a collision in that
vehicle, those replacement parts all have to
work in sync. A fraction of an inch may not
sound like a big deal, but it is."

Skin deep
The bill would apply only to exterior parts,
such as hoods, fenders, taillights, side mirrors
and quarter panels.
It would not affect interior components or
systems such as airbags, according to the text
of the measure.
Such exterior parts are mainly "cosmetic,"
and don't play a significant role in crash protection, according to an analysis of the bill by
the Quality Parts Coalition in Smithfield, R.I.,
which supports the legislation.
Advocates maintain that Congress intended
design patent protection for an entire vehicle
to prevent copying by other automakers -
not for individual parts. They say car companies are overextending design patents and
limiting competition by aggressively pursuing
protection for separate exterior parts.
In response to a previous version of the legislation, automakers and their allies said in a
2015 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee
that aftermarket parts makers can succeed
without making exact copies of crash parts.
"The underlying premise for the PARTS Act
is that competition requires copying," the letter said. "This premise is false."
Aftermarket manufacturers produce exterior
parts that are "interchangeable" with OEM
parts, without copying their exact exterior appearance, the letter asserted. The letter suggested that automakers are resigned to that reality.
"This type of activity by aftermarket companies is a form of fair competition that respects
and comports with existing patent protections,"
the letter said.
"Seen in this light, the PARTS Act is a solution
in search of a problem."
Gage of the Auto Alliance says that many of
the same organizations are preparing an updated letter to Congress that will repeat earlier
arguments against the bill. 



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017

Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017
Contents
Need a lift
Tire track
Mobility devices
Times to recall
Slick trick
Fatal fire
Players club
Online parts
Lean inventory
Loyalty test
Patent pending
Open minded
Editor’s Letter
Service Counter
Legal Lane
Richard Truett
Feedback
Five Minutes With
Letters
Fixed in Time
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Intro
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Cover2
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Contents
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Editor’s Letter
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 5
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Service Counter
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 7
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Legal Lane
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 9
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 10
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Need a lift
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Tire track
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 13
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 14
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 15
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 16
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 17
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Mobility devices
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 19
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 20
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 21
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 22
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 23
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Times to recall
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 25
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 26
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 27
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Slick trick
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 29
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Fatal fire
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Richard Truett
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Players club
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 33
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Online parts
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 35
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Lean inventory
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 37
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Loyalty test
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 39
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Patent pending
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - 41
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Feedback
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Open minded
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Five Minutes With
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Letters
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Fixed in Time
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Cover3
Fixed Ops Journal - August 2017 - Cover4
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