A bill back before Congress would reduce the time automakers could enforce design patents on crash parts such as bumpers, hoods and fenders to 30 months from 15 years.
The legislation would enable aftermarket parts makers to produce precise copies much sooner. But automakers claim the reduced patent protection would be unfair because they spend so much money on research and development for their parts programs.
Trade lobbies for the aftermarket parts industry, independent service shops and insurance companies, along with some consumer groups, support the proposed Promoting Automotive Repair, Trade and Sales Act, or PARTS Act.
Bipartisan sponsors introduced a revived version of the measure in the House and Senate this year; no hearings are scheduled. It is the fifth try since a bill along similar lines was introduced in 2009, according to congressional records.
Previous versions died in each house of Congress without a vote of the chamber's judiciary committee.
The bill's advocates say shorter design patents for the most frequently replaced crash parts would make less-expensive aftermarket parts available sooner, and create more competition to consumers' benefit.
"If someone chooses to go to a dealer and use OEM parts, that's fine with us," says Sandy Bass-Cors, executive director of the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, or CARE, a lobbying group in Alexandria, Va. "We just think consumers should have affordable options."