Wednesday, 08 February 2012 23:15

U.S. House Judiciary Members Introduce Auto Parts Bill

PARTS Act Would Limit Patent Protections for Vehicle Parts

U.S. Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., recently introduced H.R. 3889, the Promoting Automotive Repair, Trade and Sales (PARTS) Act in the House of Representatives. The bill would amend the U.S. design patent law to change the period of design patent protection for automakers from 14 years to 30 months.

Both members serve on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet. Lofgren introduced auto parts patent legislation in the last Congress.

The new subsection reads as follows:
“It shall not be an act of infringement of such design patent to make or offer to sell within the United States, or import into the United States, any article of manufacture that is similar or the same in appearance to the component part that is claimed in such design patent if the purpose of such article of manufacture is for the repair of a motor vehicle so as to restore such vehicle to its appearance as originally manufactured; and after the expiration of a period of 30 months beginning on the first day on which any such component part is first offered to the public for sale as part of a motor vehicle in any country, it shall not be an act of infringement of such design patent to use or sell within the United States any article of manufacture that is similar or the same in appearance to the component part that is claimed in such design patent if the purpose of such article of manufacture is for the repair of a motor vehicle so as to restore such vehicle to its appearance as originally manufactured.”

“Competition is the hallmark of our free market system,” Issa said. “Consumers have dozens of choices in electronics, food, service, clothing and other products – this same array of choices, across all price points, should also extend to automotive repair parts.”

Not surprisingly, OEMs oppose this limitation on their design patents. In the past, groups opposing similar legislation have said that "copycat" parts are harmful to OEMs and consumers alike.

At a 2010 hearing, Damian Porcari, director, Enforcement and Licensing, Ford Global Technologies, said, "The copyists want to eliminate design patent protection because that's what they make. As soon as their business model includes engines, brakes and air bags, we will likely hear the call for the elimination of patent protection on all types of replacement parts. And it won't stop with cars. The denial of intellectual property rights will always reduce copiers' costs."

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