06.26.09

Whitehouse Sponsors Legislation to Make Car Parts More Affordable

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has introduced legislation that would ensure that consumers continue to have access to more-affordable parts to repair their automobiles. The Access to Repair Parts Act (S. 1368) would create an exemption in patent law for auto repair parts.

Consumers who, after an accident, need an exterior collision repair part (e.g., a bumper, fender, or hood) to fix their car have long benefitted from a choice between a part produced by or for the manufacturer of the car and an alternatively-supplied part. According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a part produced by or for a car company costs about 60 percent more than alternatively supplied parts.

However, because of a recent International Trade Commission (ITC) enforcement decision, one car company successfully enforced its design patents on a number of exterior auto repair parts; this decision threatens to limit access to alternatively supplied parts, restrict consumer choice, and raise prices.

"By exempting auto repair parts under the patent laws, this bill will preserve competition in the car parts market and ultimately lead to lower prices for consumers, at a time when every little bit helps," said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I also recognize that the top priority right now in the patent arena is passage of the Patent Reform Act. I am a cosponsor of that important legislation and am determined to help ensure passage of that bill as soon as possible. My bill will in no way interfere with, or become a part of, that broader patent reform debate."

At a hearing last year before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) testified that legislation of this sort would increase competition and promote consumer choice. The Access to Repair Parts Act would ultimately preserve car company design patents in order to prevent car companies from copying each other's specific designs, while still making it more affordable for consumers to repair their vehicles.

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