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Design protection

Today, the legislation on design protection of visible automotive spare parts (glazing, lightings, body parts, rear-view mirrors) is not harmonised at European level, thereby creating legal uncertainties and hampering the competitiveness of parts distribution companies and the entire independent automotive aftermarket.

What is the issue?

Today, the legislation on design protection of visible automotive spare parts (glazing, lightings, body parts, rear-view mirrors) is not harmonised at European level, thereby creating legal uncertainties and hampering the competitiveness of parts distribution companies and the entire independent automotive aftermarket.

The European Commission already issued three legislative proposals (in 1993, 1997 and 2004) aiming at harmonising design law within the European Union and introducing a ‘Repairs Clause’ in the Design Directive. This so-called ‘Repairs Clause’ would terminate the monopoly of vehicle manufacturers on the production and commercialisation of must-match visible spare parts. The European Parliament also actively and publicly supported the Clause, but it was ultimately vetoed by a number of European Union’s member states due to strong pressure from vehicle manufacturers and the legislative process stalled. The consequence is a patchwork of conflicting national laws, creating legal uncertainties and red tape for businesses.

Nowadays however and thanks to the perseverance of the work of ECAR (the European Campaign for the freedom of the Automotive parts and Repair market) supported by FIGIEFA, the debate has started again. The European Commission has carried out an evaluation of the existing European legislation, with the aim to update and upgrade it. This is a new opportunity for our sector. Meanwhile, also some national legislations have evolved. In particular Germany, which had been very reluctant in the past, introduced in 2020 a Repairs Clause in its national legislation applying to the newly type-approved vehicle park, thereby joining the side of countries standing for free competition.

How does it impact our business ?

Without a Repairs Clause at national or European Union’s level, or when there is a (long) protection period of the design of visible spare sparts, it prevents our Members and all independent aftermarket operators from producing, importing, selling, and installing body-related visible spare parts which are not produced or commercialised by the vehicle manufacturers.

It creates legal uncertainties for business. While it might be indeed perfectly legal to put on the market independent spare parts in one country, it might not be the case in the neighbouring country. It adds red tape and creates delays to operations, especially when these parts have to cross borders. It can even result in vehicle manufacturers suing independent spare parts producers/distributors/repairers, fines and legal prosecution for importing, commercialising or using spare parts from independent sources. It deprives spare parts distributors of a huge market, or force them to source these parts to the vehicle manufacturers, which comes with a high cost and makes the services of the independent aftermarket less competitive and less attractive for workshops and consumers. This is an unacceptable situation.

What is FIGIEFA doing ?

Together with associations representing body parts producers and glass producers, FIGIEFA is a member of ECAR , the European Campaign for the freedom of the Automotive parts and Repair market, which was established back in 1993. This alliance is actively promoting the adoption of a Repairs Clause to be included in the European Directive on design protection, which is currently under revision by the European Commission.

ECAR’s and FIGIEFA’s main arguments are legal (extending design protection to visible spare parts creates a de facto product monopoly to the benefit of the vehicle manufacturers, and to the detriment of multi-brand, independent businesses) and economic (the Repairs Clause has a positive impact on the competition in the aftermarket of visible spare parts and services and a positive impact on the affordability of these aftermarket parts and services, benefitting thus the consumer).

ECAR and FIGIEFA have participated to the latest public consultation launched by the European Commission on the matter and will seize the momentum to convince Members of the European Parliament and Member States’ governments to introduce a Repairs Clause European Union-wide by launching a campaign, endeavouring to put an end to this anti-competitive patchwork situation once and for all.