Europe’s entire industrial base could be eroded, and jobs lost, warns Scania boss Annika Ahling. A new proposal from the EU will mean that anyone will be able to copy design-protected parts without sanction. ”The manufacturing will now take place in China”, she tells TN.
Recently, the European Commission presented a new proposal which aims to modernise the existing design law. The protection of industrial design aims to protect the appearance of the product. Annika Ahling, Head of Patents and Design Administration & Patents Automotive Components at Scania, says that her company welcomes to an extent the European Commission’s efforts to try to modernise design protection in the EU. However, she also believes that the proposal risks reducing the incentives for companies to continue to invest heavily in developing sustainable products.
- We have already invested an incredible amount of money on design protection, and we find it strange that the protection that we applied for ten years ago should not be valid for the entire period.
- We hope that the European Commission will retreat from the proposal, so that our existing design protection can remain valid for the entire period.
”Free to use our solutions”
In addition, the Commission wants to introduce something called a ‘repair’ clause. She feels this would be devastating for Scania, because it would mean that design protection under the Regulation would not apply to spare parts.
- We invest a great deal of money in developing high-quality vehicles; however, if this proposal becomes a reality, spare parts manufacturers will be free to copy our concepts without sanction. This goes against the core purpose of intellectual property law, which is designed to protect investments that have been made. Now, the European Commission wants to make an exception and we do not think that this is fair.
Should such copying increase, it risks having a negative impact on both road safety and sustainability.
Ahling goes on to explain that Scania protects designs that range from bumpers, mirrors and doors to seats and instrument panels. However, the European Commission’s proposal means that any manufacturer will be allowed to copy Scania’s design-protected spare parts.
- This means that parts companies are basically ripping off our brand when they sell copies. We maintain high standards for the products we produce, ensuring that they are sustainable, of high quality and made under good working conditions.
- Spare parts companies don’t have those standards. And, if the number of copies increases, this could undermine both road safety and sustainability.
Risk of fewer jobs in Europe
She explains that the spare parts business is a significant contributor to Scania’s profitability, and this aspect will be negatively affected should the proposal go ahead.
- This will lead to fewer jobs in Europe.
She is also critical of the fact that the European Commission has not taken international competition into account when conducting its impact assessment.
- It chose to focus on Europe, but it has failed to take into account the fact that China, for example, is now increasing its own protection for spare parts. It should also be borne in mind that most of the spare parts copies are actually produced in Asia.
She believes that this could lead in part to the erosion of the entire European industry.
- A lot of spare parts production will take place in Asia, and most likely than not a great deal of it will be in China.
- The European Commission’s impact assessment does not describe how customers are likely to benefit from the proposal, and there is no evidence that spare parts will become any cheaper. Ultimately, the ones who will benefit from this are the Asian spare parts manufacturers, and that will mean the erosion of the EU economy.
Even Volvo says no
AB Volvo is also critical of the proposal. In a submission to the Ministry of Justice, the company writes:
”AB Volvo does not support the proposed exemption for the protection of spare parts. This would deprive an innovative industry of a reasonable return on its investment, threaten European competitiveness and jobs and conflict with EU efforts to fight piracy without providing any tangible benefits to consumers.”
There is still hope that no repair clause will be introduced.
- But we understand that the outlook is bleak, so we have presented a number of compromises. For example, we would like to see a limitation of the term of protection to 15 years - similar to the legislation in the Nordic countries - or the introduction of some type of compulsory licensing. This would mean that we, as vehicle manufacturers, are obliged to license the spare parts companies, but that we are then financially compensated for doing so, says Ahling.
She believes that competition from Chinese vehicle manufacturers, for example, has increased in recent years. In order to meet this growing competition from China, companies such as Scania must be given the same opportunities to protect their investments that, for example, Chinese companies have.
- We will not be able to invest as much in our products in future if we are deprived of the ability to defend them through design protection.The IP Policy of The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise