Motor manufacturers have the right to register the aesthetic design of their cars as their intellectual property; in other words, another manufacturer may not “rip off” an entire design and produce a copy.
But copycat parts are an entirely different matter – it’s now open season for replica parts makers.
That’s the implication of a recent Supreme Court of Appeal decision that went against BMW.
The carmaker has for the past three years sought to prevent partsmaker Grandmark International from selling replacement parts – collision parts such as bumpers, grilles, headlights assemblies – for its cars, at generally lower prices than authorised BMW parts prices.
The crux of the case was whether the parts had an aesthetic as well as a functional value.
BMW had registered the aesthetic design of both its models, and the individual parts, as its intellectual property.
A WIN FOR CONSUMERS
The court held, in essence, that while consumers may choose a car partly for its aesthetic appeal, the same didn’t apply to replacement parts, which were merely functional.
Consumers just want to “restore the vehicle to its original form”, the court said.
BMW SA first instituted action against Grandmark by way of search and seizure proceedings and then sought interdictory and ancillary relief against them based on allegations of contempt of court, registered design infringements and trademark infringements.
BMW’s aesthetic design registrations on its parts are now invalid.
Grandmark’s Ian Pluke said the company was one of the largest importers of car parts from the East and other importers had been monitoring the case “very closely”.
“We can’t supply parts for any cars under warranty, because the manufacturers preclude this,” he said, “but owners of out-of-warranty cars now have the right to have ‘non authorised’ parts fitted.”
The decision will have a major impact on the insurance industry. -Pretoria News