WASHINGTON - Auto manufacturers found themselves pitted against the insurance industry and some consumer advocate groups March 22, during a Congressional hearing on auto replacement parts and design patents, according to a report from Body Shop Business

At issue is a bill (HR 3059), dubbed the "Access to Repair Parts Act," which seeks to change patent code so that the manufacture or distribution of non-OEM crash parts would not be subject to OEM design patent protections, as long as the parts were used to restore a vehicle to its original appearance. The hearing was held by the House Judiciary Committee. 

Damian Porcari, director of enforcement and licensing for Ford Global Technologies, testified that "copycat parts hurt Ford, our employees, our suppliers, our dealers and our customers." He added that there's no justification for treating visible repair parts differently than other items protected by intellectual property rights. 

Porcari also alleged that some insurance companies base customer insurance premium rates on OEM parts pricing, but then push body shops to install cheaper, non-OEM parts to save money. In effect, he said, they mislead state regulators charged with approving the premium rates. 

On the other side of the issue, Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America, testified that the bill would promote competition in the crash parts marketplace and keep repair costs and insurance rates in check. 

A number of industry groups sent representatives to testify at the hearing. Groups opposing the bill include the Automotive Service Association, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, American Automotive Policy Council, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Intellectual Property Owners Association and National Automobile Dealers Association. 

Proponents of the bill include the Quality Parts Coalition, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and the Consumer Federation of America.