Association, Inc.

Issue No. 1, 2008

Design protection under threat

In 2004 the European Commission presented its proposal to increase competition in the automotive spare parts market.  The Commission sought to provide consumers with greater choice and value when purchasing "visible" replacement auto parts such as bonnets, bumpers, doors, lamps, rear protection panels, windscreens and wings.

The proposal was to amend Directive 98/71/EC on the legal protection of designs by removing the Member States' option to maintain design protection for such items. Essentially, the proposal would allow independent parts manufacturers to compete throughout the EU for the visible replacement parts market.

In December 2007 MEPs supported the proposal at first reading and introduced a five-year transitional period before full liberalisation, in an effort to help convince those Member States (including Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania) that had been blocking the proposal in the Council.  MEPs also proposed that manufacturers be allowed to retain design protection for spare parts purchased for "decorative reasons".  The proposal will now be examined by the Council of Ministers.

The proposed amendment to Directive 98/71/EC raises significant concerns for JAMA's members.  JAMA sees no rationale for the European Union to withdraw design protection from spare parts, particularly when the benefits for EU consumers have yet to be demonstrated.

In addition, JAMA believes that the Commission’s proposal will deprive vehicle manufacturers from deserved returns on investment and, most importantly, undermine vehicle safety.  JAMA therefore adopts the same stance as ACEA in opposing the decision of the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee in this regard.

A further significant concern is that if the EU enacts legislation that removes design protection in fields where such protection is perceived to be against its interests, non-EU countries that model their intellectual property protection laws on those of the European Union may come to view this practice as a global standard.  In turn, they might enact intellectual property laws which in effect protect only those fields that "favour" their national interests.

If such narrowly focussed "protectionist" laws were to be emulated around the world, EU intellectual property rights could very well be excluded from protection, leaving the European Union, the proponent of this legislation, unable to defend those rights.

The elimination of design protection for spare parts allows the imitation of designs in specific fields, whereas the very notion of design imitation runs contrary to fundamental cultural values and practices.  JAMA therefore strongly urges the European Parliament to consider this issue not just from a European perspective but in terms of its global impact as well.