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Tuesday, 07 June 2011 15:37

Eileen Sottile and the Quality Parts Coalition Offer Legislative Update

The Quality Parts Coalition (QPC) is a group of about 80 representatives from different companies and associations that focuses on preserving competition of auto repair parts by keeping the availability of quality, lower-cost alternative collision repair parts for consumers. Eileen Sottile, a representative for QPC who has been instrumental in getting legislation together for the organization to present to Congress, gave a legislative update to Autobody News on the group's upcoming endeavors now that there is a new Congress on the hill.

QPC came about in response to a 2005 patent infringement suit that Ford brought to the International Trade Commission against Keystone, alleging design patent infringement of exterior collision repair parts for the 2005 F-150.
It was after this case that coalition members realized they "needed a permanent change to the patent laws," said Sottile.
According to Sottile, up to that point people in the aftermarket crash part industry didn't think they would have design patent issues on cosmetic parts.

Ford brought yet another lawsuit against LKQ/Keystone following the F-150 case, and Sottile said that without a change in the patent laws carmakers can continually come back with lawsuits on a part-by-part basis and bankrupt the aftermarket parts industry.

QPC was created in response to these issues to try to find a solution. This group represents all aspects of the repair industry, including; insurers, collision shops, seniors, retailers and aftermarket parts companies and manufacturers. Some consumer groups have also voiced their support for QPC's legislative endeavors, although they are not QPC members.

 

"In most cases we didn't feel they even deserved a patent," said Sottile. The cosmetic parts in question are so similar to their aftermarket counterparts that Sottile said that QPC has a hard time seeing how they rose to the standard of getting a design patent.

According to Sottile, the car companies currently have a "near monopoly" on the crash parts market with 72% control of the market and these design patents will only increase that holding.

QPC is gathering support for legislation the group may introduce in Congress sometime this year.

QPC originally introduced a bill into Congress in 2009; it aimed to make the act of providing a part solely for the purpose of repair exempt from design patent infringement. It was based on current laws in Australia and the UK known as "repair clauses." That bill did not get voted on by the full Senate and House before their session closed.

QPC is currently working in a bipartisan manner to explore potential legislative solutions to the design patent issue for introduction to the current Congress that is in session.

QPC has had several meetings with Congress, including a meeting with the House Intellectual Property Subcommittee and a full Judiciary House meeting. According to Sottile, the support for reforming design patent laws with a repair clause is there, the group is just awaiting reintroduction in Congress.

"If a patent is awarded, competition in the secondary market should still be permitted," said Sottile.

Sottile made the distinction that QPC has no intention of prohibiting the protection a patent provides primary competitors against each other with the legislation -- "but in the secondary market, when the part is only provided for repair, we don't think it should be subject to design patent enforcement," said Sottile.

For example, QPC believes that design patent laws should protect BMW's signature grille from Ford recreating it and using it on their Fiesta, but it should not prevent aftermarket parts companies from recreating the BMW grille for replacement on a damaged BMW vehicle.

Sottile also mentioned that the preservation of competition in the parts market in this manner ultimately allows for the consumer to benefit.

"There's a big cost difference between these parts; about 25 to 60 percent," said Sottile. "The timing is critical in this economy."

For more information about QPC and their legislative endeavors please visit www.keepautopartsaffordable.org.

The full text of the QPC's past legislation can also be seen by clicking HERE.

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