A ‘FREEDOM OF REPAIRS’ CLAUSE FOR EUROPE
In May 2014, the European Commission withdrew its proposal to introduce a Europe-wide ‘Repairs Clause’ in the Design Directive, a provision which meant to liberalise the market of automotive visible spare parts throughout the EU. A Repairs Clause rightly gives vehicle manufacturers full protection over the design of their new cars. It merely ensures that this protection is not extended to the corresponding visible spare parts. It thus leaves consumers free to repair their vehicles as they wish and avoids creating deleterious spare parts monopolies. And it ensures the rights of spare parts makers to supply parts to consumers in all Member States and in no way restrains the vehicle manufacturers from free and fair completion in the repairs market through tied or independent garages and body shops.
Further to the withdrawal of its proposal, the European Commission announced in its Work Program for 2014 the intention to reassess this issue through a general review of the European design protection’s regime.
As a first step of this analysis, the Commission entrusted the consultancy Europe Economics with the preparation of an economic study on industrial designs. The conclusion of the authors is clear and again fully supports the ECAR position: a European‐wide repairs clause should be introduced and design protection should not be extended to visible automotive spare parts.
As a second step of the review, the Commission ordered a legal study to a consortium with the aim of, inter alia, examining whether harmonisation has facilitated the system of design protection in the internal market and whether further harmonisation is required and aiming also at determining whether there is a need for further harmonisation of national legislation which would bring benefits to users and consumers. The Legal Study concluded in June 2016 that a) “legislative amendment at the EU level appears necessary” and that b) there is not a more acceptable solution on the horizon than the Repairs Clause proposal of the Commission which “commanded considerable support and has the merits of harmonising European and national design protection”.
The Commission will now assess how best address the issues highlighted by these two studies. Meanwhile, the competitiveness of thousands of SMEs is still hampered by the application of design protection rights on automotive visible spare parts in the aftermarket in multiple Member States and by the lack of European legal harmonisation, ultimately depriving European consumers from prices flowing from the benefits of free and fair competition.
ECAR believes that there is a real need to reshape EU’s industrial automotive policy and better combine the protection of industrial property rights with the consequences that such protection may have on EU independent aftermarket SMEs if used beyond its essential purposes.
ECAR will continue its efforts to ensure that national and European decision makers will not allow any further delay in finding a fair and concrete solution on the use of design rights in the European Internal Market for automotive spare parts, which the Repairs Clause rightly provides.
About ECAR: Established in 1993, ECAR is the European Campaign for the Freedom of the Automotive Parts and Repair Market, an alliance of 5 independent EU organisations representing vehicle parts producers and distributors, a large cross‐section of SMEs as well as the interests of 285 million motoring consumers in the European Union. ECAR’s objective is the establishment of a harmonised, free and real European Internal Market of automotive visible replacement parts.
For more information, please refer to the ECAR website: www.ecar-alliance.eu