Right to Repair Legislation: Momentum and Challenges Ahead
Right to repair bills have been gaining momentum. Consumers and independent third parties increasingly demand the right to self-repair. They want to be able to repair a wide range of products including electronics, farm equipment, medical devices, and motor vehicles. The right to repair refers to manufacturers providing third parties with the tools, parts, and documentation to independently repair and modify equipment.
In July 2021, President Biden signed an executive order that encourages the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to implement self-repair regulations. These regulations would prohibit original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) from imposing restrictions on independent repair shops. The executive order is intended to promote competition and lower equipment repair costs for consumers.
Legislative action is picking up momentum against this backdrop. In the United States, several “right to repair” laws have been proposed at the federal and state level. The right to repair movement is also gaining traction in Europe. EU lawmakers are responding with their own legislative proposals.
Fair Repair Act of 2022
On March 14, 2022, three U.S. Senators introduced a bill that would require OEMs to make available tools, parts, and documentation needed for independent third parties to exercise their right to repair electronic equipment. The proposed legislation is the Fair Repair Act of 2022. It would cover a wide range of products including consumer electronics and farming equipment.
Medical Device Right to Repair Act
The Medical Device Right to Repair Act is currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate. This bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 27, 2021. Similar versions of the bill have been introduced at the state level, including in Arkansas, Hawaii, and Texas.
Opponents of the legislation argue its passage could endanger patient safety. They express concern that third party repairs of medical devices would not be subject to the same level of regulatory oversight. The FDA currently imposes strict regulations on OEMs making medical equipment. However, right to repair laws would not ensure that third party service organizations are held to similar quality control standards.
Arguments For and Against the Right to Repair
Proponents of self-repair bills assert this legislation would encourage competition, reduce equipment repair costs for consumers, and promote environmental sustainability.
Conversely, critics of the right to repair argue this legislation raises concerns with respect to a number of issues. They include data privacy, cybersecurity, intellectual property rights, consumer safety, and liability for manufacturers.
On the safety front, opponents express concerns that repairs by third parties could lead to equipment malfunctions and product quality issues. The right to repair in the medical device context could endanger patient safety. Insufficient quality standards in repairs conducted by independent service organizations (ISOs) could lead to reputational harm and legal liability.
Requiring OEMs to provide access to their parts, tools, documents, and other proprietary information could also increase their vulnerability to cyber-attacks. Hackers could also obtain access to personal data, which is a concern where sensitive personal data is involved.
OEMs will have to plan for the potential liability implications of these laws. The passage of right to repair bills could lead to more lawsuits brought by independent third parties and regulators.
Consumer Electronics Companies
In the past, consumer electronics companies such as Apple and Samsung have largely frowned on the right to repair. Last year, Apple introduced a Self-Service Repair program for select devices. The program provides customers with access to Apple parts, tools, and manuals to complete their own repairs. Apple already had a system in place for Apple Authorized Service Providers. These providers must meet certain minimum training and certification requirements to perform repairs on the company’s products. However, the Self-Service Repair program represents a major shift in approach.
In March 2022, Samsung made a similar move, introducing a self-service, right to repair program for Galaxy devices. In connection with the news, Samsung announced a partnership with iFixit. It is an e-commerce website that publishes popular do-it-yourself (DIY) repair guides for electronics.
“We are excited to be consulting with Samsung to help them develop a solution for DIY parts and repair information,” commented iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens. “Every time you fix a device, you’re helping the planet.”
Agricultural Equipment Manufacturers
John Deere is a leading global company in the manufacture of agricultural equipment. The company has recently been subject to a lawsuit brought by third party service organizations. The lawsuit alleges that John Deere uses its dominant position to monopolize the service and repairs market for farming equipment. The complaint, dubbed the Eagle Lake Farms lawsuit, alleges that John Deere hinders the right to repair. It claims that John Deere prevents independent repair shops from accessing critical repair and software tools. They further claim John Deere’s actions violate U.S. antitrust laws.