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U.S. House introduces bill to reduce OEM parts patent protection

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Feb. 3, 2012—U.S. House Committee members Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) on Thursday introduced legislation to protect consumer access to alternative collision repair parts, according to the Quality Parts Coalition (QPC).

The proposed House bill, known as the Promoting Automotive Repair, Trade, and Sales (PARTS) Act, would amend title 35 of the current U.S. design patent law. The amendment would reduce the time period when auto manufacturers are able to enforce design patents on collision repair parts against alternative suppliers from 14 years to 30 months. The period for such enforcement would begin when auto manufacturers first introduce a vehicle model containing patented parts, according to the QPC.

The amendment would enable relatively quick access to affordable part substitutions for American car owners, prevent auto manufacturer monopolies on repair parts and preserve competition in the parts market, the QPC said. Australia and various European countries have already passed similar repair clause laws.

"The Quality Parts Coalition praises U.S. Representatives Issa and Lofgren for their leadership in protecting the rights of American drivers," said Eileen Sottile, executive director of the QPC. "We urge Congress to pass this bill so that consumers can continue to have access to affordable, quality alternative replacement parts."

The QPC on Friday launched a "Write Congress" widget on its website to encourage consumers and industry leaders to tell Congress they support the bill. The QPC said it is also working with members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to introduce a companion bill in the near future.

The QPC said consumers have benefited from the availability of alternative auto replacement parts for more than 60 years, and competition in the collision parts industry saves consumers roughly $1.5 billion a year. But car companies, which control more than 72 percent of the market, are trying to block competition by enforcing design patents against the alternative collision parts industry. If auto manufacturers’ efforts are successful, the QPC said American vehicle owners will be left with limited options when repairing their vehicles, which would result in higher repair costs, more total losses and increased insurance premiums.

The QPC represents the independent parts industry, repairers, insurers, consumers and seniors. The organization’s goal is to develop and secure a permanent legislative change to U.S. design patent law to protect consumer access to alternative replacement parts and preserve competition.

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