There’s a good chance that you are paying more for repairing your vehicle after an accident than you need to be. A new study has found that car parts produced and sold by the car’s manufacturer – known commonly as “original equipment manufacturers” or OEM parts – cost more than comparable aftermarket parts.

The study was commissioned by the Quality Parts Coalition, a group dedicated to the availability of aftermarket parts. While their interest in the study’s outcome is apparent, their case is solid. Using data from the Certified Automotive Parts Association, QPC examined the price difference between OEM and aftermarket parts for 100 particular parts between 2009 and 2014.

On average, aftermarket parts were 27 percent less expensive than OEM parts.

The large discrepancy in price between these parts stems from a profound confusion at the heart of patent law. That’s because the parts in question, known commonly as “crash parts,” are subject not to traditional patents, but rather to design patents, which are substantially easier to obtain than traditional patents.

Design patents are intended to apply to the purely cosmetic aspects of a product. As the name suggests, aesthetic “ornamental” design is at the heart of the concept. However, a decision reached in 2007 dramatically extended the reach of design patents when it ruled that exterior parts produced by Ford qualified for design-patent protection.

Now able to file design patents on their cosmetic parts, OEMs are able to maintain a nearly decadelong grip on the production of those parts. During that period, OEMs enjoyed an effective monopoly to which consumers are subject.

The 27 percent premium between OEM and aftermarket parts is a function not of the quality of the parts involved, but is rather the result of a protectionist perversion of the patent system. For that reason, whether or not savings are realized by consumers (though, both in direct terms and in terms of insurance premiums, they almost certainly would be) there’s a need to re-evaluate the role that design patents are playing in the U.S. economy.

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