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Industrial property: Commission proposes more competition in car spare parts market

Commission Européenne - IP/04/1101   14/09/2004

Autres langues disponibles: FR DE

IP/04/1101

Brussels, 14th September 2004

Industrial property: Commission proposes more competition in car spare parts market

The European Commission has proposed to give consumers better choice and value when they buy “visible” replacement vehicle parts, such as bonnets, bumpers, doors, lamps, rear protection panels, windscreens and wings. The proposal would amend the legal protection of designs Directive (98/71) by removing Member States’ option to maintain design protection for such items. The proposal would allow independent part manufacturers –not linked to the producers of finished vehicles - to compete throughout the EU market for visible replacement parts, potentially worth some € 10 billion annually. The Commission estimates that these parts are 6-10 % more expensive in Member States where they are subject to design protection. Non-visible parts, like engine or mechanical parts, are not concerned by the proposal. Neither are components in new vehicles.

Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said: “The proposal strikes a suitable balance of interests between car makers, independent part manufacturers, consumers and insurers. If you need an external part for a car in some Member States you can only get it from the original manufacturer. That is anti-competitive and unjustifiable. People are entitled to value for money throughout a vehicle’s life. This proposal will help them get it and complements the Commission’s successful measures to open up the retail market for cars.”

Vehicle manufacturers and their component suppliers have significant monopoly power in the market for visible replacement parts, because they can, in many Member States, invoke design protection to stop others producing them. To be marketable, visible replacement parts must look identical to the original component or nobody would buy them. If that “look” is protected from copying, independent parts manufacturers are excluded from the market.

The lack of harmonised rules is burdensome for companies, especially for SMEs. Independent part manufacturers remain squeezed out of the market for visible replacement parts in many Member States. Their share in this €10 billion EU market probably does not exceed 12-15 %. In addition, Internal Market barriers remain: parts manufacturers who can sell their products legally in some Member States cannot in others.

To remedy this, the Commission’s proposal would introduce into Directive 98/71 a “repairs clause”, so that visible car parts can be freely reproduced by independent parts manufacturers and marketed throughout the EU for repair purposes and to restore the original appearance of the product.

Design protection covers only the appearance of products. The proposal would not affect the safety or quality of spare parts. Safety standards are governed by other EU and national laws. They set objective minimum standards for all spare parts. All producers would continue to have to respect these.

Under the proposal, car manufacturers would retain exclusive rights covering the use of designs for the production and sale of new vehicles. That is sufficient to reward their investment in design and to maintain a strong incentive to innovate. Manufacturers will continue to produce the best-looking vehicles they can, as car buyers are influenced by appearance in making purchasing decisions.

More details and the full text of the proposal are available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/en/indprop/design/index.htm


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