American consumers have long had a choice of replacement parts when repairing damaged vehicles. But the passage of a recent International Trade Commission (ITC) ruling restricts consumers options when purchasing quality replacement parts for many popular vehicle models. The ITC decision, in combination with this disturbing trend, means that without a permanent solution automaker design patent cases could effectively eliminate the entire alternative replacement crash parts industry.
“We believe the automotive companies have a business plan to completely monopolize the replacement crash parts market,” says Eileen Sottile, executive director of the Quality Parts Coalition. “A win for the car companies will be a loss for repairers, bringing increased ‘totals’ and a shrinking market of reparable vehicles.”
Design patents awarded to the major automobile manufacturers have dramatically increased in the past few years, growing to between 20–25 percent of the total U.S. patents awarded to those manufacturers. Crash parts account for 50–93 percent of the U.S. design patents awarded to the car companies.
“The auto company trend of increased design patents on crash parts should strike fear in the hearts of all autobody repairers,” says Don Feeley, president of repair shop City Body & Frame. “No matter how repairers feel about independent crash parts, competition in this marketplace keeps prices down. Loss of competition and higher prices will force insurance companies to declare more damaged vehicles as totals, meaning less work for our repair shops.”
The QPC is asking Congress to establish a “repair clause” in U.S. design patent law. If approved, the U.S. would join Australia, Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the U.K., who already ascribe to the repair doctrine and free competition. The amendment would specify that the making and use of a matching exterior auto part for purposes of repair to a vehicle is not an act of infringement.
For more information on this topic, visit the Quality Parts Coalition Web site: (www.qualitypartscoalition.com)