U.S. Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in the U.S. Senate, recently introduced legislation titled the “Promoting Automotive Repair, Trade and Sales Act of 2013.’’ Known as ‘‘PARTS Act,’’ this legislation provides for an exception from infringing U.S. design patents for certain component parts of motor vehicles. 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.
The Congressional Research Service reports that the bill makes it not an act of infringement with respect to a design patent to: 1) make, test or offer to sell within the U.S., or import into the U.S., any article of manufacture that is similar or the same in appearance to the component part claimed in such design patent if the purpose of such article is for the repair of a motor vehicle to restore its appearance to as originally manufactured; and 2) use or sell within the U.S. any such same or similar articles for such restorations more than 30 months after the claimed component part is first offered for public sale as part of a motor vehicle in any country.
The Automotive Service Association (ASA) asked members of Congress to oppose similar legislation in the previous congresses in which the bill was introduced. ASA joined a coalition of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), new car dealers, labor unions and other trade associations in sending a letter to Reps. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), chairman, and Mel Watt (D-N.C.) ranking member, of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet, asking that they oppose H.R. 1663.
The letter outlined the following concerns:
“Manufacturers of unlicensed automobile parts have to meet only one basic threshold, to produce a copy that passes off as an original part. Those who produce such parts incur no costs attributable to original design, research and development and most importantly, product safety testing. Accordingly, the manufacturer of the original product for whom such unlicensed replacement parts are made does not know how these parts will perform with the rest of the vehicle and how their use will impact the quality and integrity of the original product. Automotive collision repairers are very concerned about the quality of replacement crash parts. Permitting this intellectual property infringement also exposes consumers to significant safety, performance or durability risks without their knowledge.”