NHTSA and Motor Vehicle Safety



The closing years of the Obama administration saw a whirlwind of regulatory activity from NHTSA, including multiple consent orders, record penalties, and soaring recall numbers. The more aggressive enforcement posture, hailed as the “New Normal,” has largely remained in place as the Trump administration has been slow to bring in new political leadership to the agency. Although the Trump administration’s regulatory philosophy is still unclear, the future direction of the agency is beginning to come into focus as the new year gets underway. NHTSA is significantly boosting its investigative staff and implementing structural changes in its enforcement office, changes that are almost certain to lead to more defect investigations. The agency also recently revised its autonomous vehicle policy, setting forth twelve “Priority Safety Design Elements” for automated vehicles. This year, the industry expects to see passage of autonomous vehicle legislation, which has bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. Passage of such legislation will inevitably trigger a flurry of activity at the agency as it races to meet congressionally mandated rulemaking deadlines. Thus, we expect 2018 to be another busy year for NHTSA and the industry.

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District Court Rejects Efforts To Invalidate Design Patents on Automobile Parts

car hood

In a case affecting aftermarket automotive suppliers, on February 20, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued a decision declining to invalidate or render unenforceable two of Ford’s design patents covering auto-body parts for the F-150 truck. Automotive Body Parts Association (“ABPA”) v. Ford Global Technologies, LLC, Case No. 2:15-cv-10137 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 20, 2018). In reaching its decision as to whether Ford’s patents covered designs that were “ornamental” or “dictated by function,” the Court rejected the ABPA’s: (i) “matter-of-concern” argument, finding instead that the “the look of a vehicle matters,” especially given that the look may have influenced the initial purchasing decision; (ii) creative efforts to “import the aesthetic-functionality doctrine from trademark law to design-patent law”; (iii) claim that the design patents were based on their need to physically fit the F-150; and (iv) argument that the patents were unenforceable due to patent exhaustion where “the mere purchase of an F-150 does not convey to the owner the right to make new auto-body parts covered by Ford’s design patents.”  Beyond denying ABPA’s summary judgment motion, the Court also noted its intent to enter judgment in favor of Ford (which had not separately filed a motion on these issues in the instant case), given the Court’s consideration of “the entirety of ABPA’s declaratory judgment complaint.”

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Ride Sharing Is Already Reducing Car Ownership and Public Transportation Usage

ride sharing

A recent study by the ride-hailing service Lyft and a similar study by a group of American universities pointed to the positive impact ride-sharing services not only have on consumers, but on the surrounding communities they service. These studies found that ride-hailing services aid in reducing congestion, increase individual consumer mobility, and found that in 2017 alone, Lyft passengers spent over $2 billion more in communities where ride-sharing services exist. But, the studies and more also point to the negative impact ride sharing services have on individual car ownership and public transportation usage in the same areas.

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Foley’s 2017 Connected Cars & Autonomous Vehicles Survey - Part 2

connected cars

This is part two of the review of our survey released in October 2017. The survey feedback suggests that many automotive and technology companies are already forging ahead despite the challenges. Click here for the first part of our review.

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