Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione: House Introduces Bill to Limit Design Patent Protection for Automotive Parts

Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione: House Introduces Bill to Limit Design Patent Protection for Automotive Parts

Members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee reintroduced legislation on February 2, 2012 that would drastically reduce the term for design patent protection from 14 years to a mere 30 months for automotive repair parts. The bill, titled the "Promoting Automotive Repair, Trade, and Sales" (PARTS) Act, allows for the blanket manufacture, testing, importation, and pre-sale distribution of repair parts that would otherwise infringe a design patent for automotive "component parts." The PARTS bill only limits use and sale of such repair parts until 30 months after the patented part is offered for sale. If the bill is allowed to pass, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) patentees of automotive parts will effectively suffer a complete obliteration of their design patent rights.

Design Patents and the PARTS Bill 

Design patents are one among three (3) types of patents in the United States (the other two being utility patents that protect how something works or how it is constructed and plant patents that protect asexually reproduced plants). Generally, design patents protect the ornamental appearance of an object, or essentially what a product looks like. Common examples include the Statue of Liberty (patented in 1879), the Volkswagen Beetle (newer design patented in 2001), and the Apple iPad (patented in 2011).

The PARTS bill was reintroduced by Representatives Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and purports to "preserve consumer choice, reduce insurer and driver costs and improve competition in the market for replacement automotive parts." The bill sets out two main provisions:

(A) Whoever makes or offers to sell in the United States, or imports into the United States, any repair part that is similar to or the same as a component part that is claimed in a design patent, is not liable for design patent infringement; and

(B) Whoever uses or sells such repair parts thirty (30) months after the patented component part is first offered for sale as part of a motor vehicle is not liable for design patent infringement.

In effect, non-OEM manufacturers can immediately begin developing, testing, and manufacturing repair parts, and even begin their marketing efforts without being liable for infringement. And once the brief 30 month period approaches expiration, these non-OEM manufacturers, distributors, and related companies can have their fingers on the "launch" button to gain market share in what is meant to be reserved for patentees for 14 years under the Patent Laws. Allowing such a bill to pass would minimize the Constitutional rights of innovative product developers and may disincentivize automotive innovations.

For Owners of Automotive Design Patents 

Companies that obtain design patents on their originally manufactured component parts should also consider utility patent protection for such parts since the PARTS bill is exclusively directed to design patent infringement. To the extent possible, design patent applications should be filed as early as possible to ensure that a design patent is issued prior to an offer for sale of component parts, in order to maximize the proposed 30 month term.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss how this legislation may impact you, please contact your attorney at Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione.

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This Client Alert is intended to provide information of general interest to the public and is not intended to offer legal advice about specific situations or problems. Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione does not intend to create an attorney-client relationship by offering this information and review of the information shall not be deemed to create such a relationship. You should consult a lawyer if you have a legal matter requiring attention. For further information, please contact a Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione lawyer. 

© 2012 Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer

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  • 05-29-2012

I don't knew about this type of law for automotive patent .But what are the exact rules for Car Wheels .

  • 07-19-2012

Yes Vehicle law of patent is really needed.Cause a vehicle theft not only someones emotions but also may be his whole life earning ... everything is important for the owner....