The latest ‘right to repair’ law is the broadest one yet

Read the full story at Stateline.

Do-it-yourselfers and repair shops are celebrating a victory in Minnesota with the enactment of a new law that requires many manufacturers to share parts and information with tinkerers and small businesses.

The so-called right to repair law will allow equipment owners and independent shops to more easily fix devices like phones, laptops, appliances and other equipment.

Minnesota is the latest state to approve such a law, following Colorado earlier this year and New York last year. Massachusetts’ law covering vehicles was enacted in 2020. Do-it-yourselfers, farmers, handyman companies and small repair shops argue that without such laws, big tech companies make it almost impossible to get manufacturers’ parts and instructions.

Manufacturers, however, argue that broadening access could pose dangers to would-be repairers and the equipment as well as compromise the safety and security of devices.

As the bills make their way through the states, tech firms have successfully lobbied to exempt some types of equipment or allow other exceptions such as allowing manufacturers to provide only full assemblies of parts, rather than individual parts such as a chip, for what the manufacturers say is safety or security reasons.

In rural America, right-to-repair laws are the leading edge of a pushback against growing corporate power

Waiting for repairs can cost farmers time and money. VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

by Leland Glenna, Penn State

As tractors became more sophisticated over the past two decades, the big manufacturers allowed farmers fewer options for repairs. Rather than hiring independent repair shops, farmers have increasingly had to wait for company-authorized dealers to arrive. Getting repairs could take days, often leading to lost time and high costs.

A new memorandum of understanding between the country’s largest farm equipment maker, John Deere Corp., and the American Farm Bureau Federation is now raising hopes that U.S. farmers will finally regain the right to repair more of their own equipment.

However, supporters of right-to-repair laws suspect a more sinister purpose: to slow the momentum of efforts to secure right-to-repair laws around the country.

Under the agreement, John Deere promises to give farmers and independent repair shops access to manuals, diagnostics and parts. But there’s a catch – the agreement isn’t legally binding, and, as part of the deal, the influential Farm Bureau promised not to support any federal or state right-to-repair legislation.

The right-to-repair movement has become the leading edge of a pushback against growing corporate power. Intellectual property protections, whether patents on farm equipment, crops, computers or cellphones, have become more intense in recent decades and cover more territory, giving companies more control over what farmers and other consumers can do with the products they buy.

For farmers, few examples of those corporate constraints are more frustrating than repair restrictions and patent rights that prevent them from saving seeds from their own crops for future planting.

How a few companies became so powerful

The United States’ market economy requires competition to function properly, which is why U.S. antitrust policies were strictly enforced in the post-World War II era.

During the 1970s and 1980s, however, political leaders began following the advice of a group of economists at the University of Chicago and relaxed enforcement of federal antitrust policies. That led to a concentration of economic power in many sectors.

This concentration has become especially pronounced in agriculture, with a few companies consolidating market share in numerous areas, including seeds, pesticides and machinery, as well as commodity processing and meatpacking. One study in 2014 estimated that Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, was responsible for approximately 80% of the corn and 90% of the soybeans grown in the U.S. In farm machinery, John Deere and Kubota account for about a third of the market.

A tractor with several computer screens in the cab on the floor of a convention, with several people in the background.
New tractors are increasingly high-tech, with GPS, 360-degree camera and smartphone controls. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Market power often translates into political power, which means that those large companies can influence regulatory oversight, legal decisions, and legislation that furthers their economic interests – including securing more expansive and stricter intellectual property policies.

The right-to-repair movement

At its most basic level, right-to-repair legislation seeks to protect the end users of a product from anti-competitive activities by large companies. New York passed the first broad right-to-repair law, in 2022, and nearly two dozen states have active legislation – about half of them targeting farm equipment.

Whether the product is an automobile, smartphone or seed, companies can extract more profits if they can force consumers to purchase the company’s replacement parts or use the company’s exclusive dealership to repair the product.

One of the first cases that challenged the right to repair equipment was in 1939, when a company that was reselling refurbished spark plugs was sued by the Champion Spark Plug Co. for violating its patent rights. The Supreme Court agreed that Champion’s trademark had been violated, but it allowed resale of the refurbished spark plugs if “used” or “repaired” was stamped on the product.

Although courts have often sided with the end users in right-to-repair cases, large companies have vast legal and lobbying resources to argue for stricter patent protections. Consumer advocates contend that these protections prevent people from repairing and modifying the products they rightfully purchased.

The ostensible justification for patents, whether for equipment or seeds, is that they provide an incentive for companies to invest time and money in developing products because they know that they will have exclusive rights to sell their inventions once patented.

However, some scholars claim that recent legal and legislative changes to patents are instead limiting innovation and social benefits.

The problem with seed patents

The extension of utility patents to agricultural seeds illustrates how intellectual property policies have expanded and become more restrictive.

Patents have been around since the founding of the U.S., but agricultural crops were initially considered natural processes that couldn’t be patented. That changed in 1980 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision Diamond v. Chakrabarty. The case involved genetically engineered bacteria that could break down crude oil. The court’s ruling allowed inventors to secure patents on living organisms.

Half a decade later, the U.S. Patent Office extended patents to agricultural crops generated through transgenic breeding techniques, which inserts a gene from one species into the genome of another. One prominent example is the insertion of a gene into corn and cotton that enables the plant to produce its own pesticide. In 2001, the Supreme Court included conventionally bred crops in the category eligible for patenting.

Seeds grow in segmented compartments of petri dishes. The dishes have writing in marker on the top.
Genetically modified seeds, and even conventionally bred crops, can be patented. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Historically, farmers would save seeds that their crops generated and replant them the following season. They could also sell those seeds to other farmers. They lost the right to sell their seeds in 1970, when Congress passed the Plant Variety Protection Act. Utility patents, which grant an inventor exclusive right to produce a new or improved product, are even more restrictive.

Under a utility patent, farmers can no longer save seed for replanting on their own farms. University scientists even face restrictions on the kind of research they can perform on patented crops.

Because of the clear changes in intellectual property protections on agricultural crops over the years, researchers are able to evaluate whether those changes correlate with crop innovations – the primary justification used for patents. The short answer is that they do not.

One study revealed that companies have used intellectual property to enhance their market power more than to enhance innovations. In fact, some vegetable crops with few patent protections had more varietal innovations than crops with more patent protections.

How much does this cost farmers?

It can be difficult to estimate how much patented crops cost farmers. For example, farmers might pay more for the seeds but save money on pesticides or labor, and they might have higher yields. If market prices for the crop are high one year, the farmer might come out ahead, but if prices are low, the farmer might lose money. Crop breeders, meanwhile, envision substantial profits.

Similarly, it is difficult to calculate the costs farmers face from not having a right to repair their machinery. A machine breakdown that takes weeks to repair during harvest time could be catastrophic.

The nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group calculated that U.S. consumers could save US$40 billion per year if they could repair electronics and appliances – about $330 per family.

The memorandum of understanding between John Deere and the Farm Bureau may be a step in the right direction, but it is not a substitute for right-to-repair legislation or the enforcement of antitrust policies.

Leland Glenna, Professor of Rural Sociology and Science, Technology, and Society, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Right-to-repair advocates expect more bills in 2023 after New York success

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

Advocates expect at least 20 states to introduce legislation aimed at making it easier forthe public and e-scrap refurbishers to fix electronics now that New York has passed the country’s first right-to-repair law of its kind. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Digital Fair Repair Act into law Dec. 28. It requires original equipment manufacturers to make repair information and tools for certain electronic devices, such as cell phones and laptops, available to the public.

Federal Trade Commission extends public comment period on initiative to reduce energy costs and strengthen right-to-repair

On October 17, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission announced it is seeking public comments on whether it should propose updates to its Energy Labeling Rule to modernize and expand the rule’s coverage to reduce energy costs for consumers and require manufacturers to provide consumers with repair instructions. The notice announcing this initiative was published in the Federal Register on October 25.

At the request of several commenters, the commission has extended the public comment period until January 31, 2023. Information about how to submit comments can be found in the Federal Register notice.

The Commission vote approving the public comment period extension was 4-0.

The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition and protect and educate consumers. Learn more about consumer topics at, or report fraud, scams, and bad business practices at Follow the FTC on social media, read consumer alerts and the business blog, and sign up to get the latest FTC news and alerts.

Samsung will let you fix your own phone, if you dare

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Samsung said this week that customers who want to try their hands at fixing gadgets can now buy genuine smartphone and tablets parts from repair resource website iFixit, as well as from Samsung’s Experience stores across the country.

The push to make at least some of its gadgets more easily repairable comes amid a broader national conversation about the right to fix the products we buy, spurred mostly by heightened scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission beginning last year. Since then, Apple launched a self-service repair program of its own, while Google partnered with iFixit to offer tools and genuine parts to would-be tinkerers.

But like some of those other self-service programs, Samsung’s approach comes with a few quirks.

Microsoft publishes independent review of its repair policies

Read the full story from E-Scrap News.

Requiring consumers to drive to repair shops can completely negate the greenhouse gas benefits of repairing the devices, according to an analysis commissioned by one of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Instead, mailing in broken devices and ensuring they don’t travel via air freight is a lower-impact approach, consulting firm Oakdene Hollins found.

“If end users drive their broken devices to a repair facility, even over a short distance, GHG emissions may increase rapidly. The study showed that ‘mail-to’ services offered an order of magnitude lower GHG emissions impact even over much larger transport distances and, therefore, should be encouraged,” according to the document, titled “An assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions and waste impacts from improving the repairability of Microsoft devices.”

Despite a first-ever ‘right-to-repair’ law, there’s no easy fix for wheelchair users

Read the full story from Kaiser Health News.

Power wheelchair users have long been fighting for the right to repair their wheelchairs themselves or through independent repair shops. Medicare and most insurance companies will replace complex wheelchairs only every five years. The wheelchair suppliers that have contracts with public and private health insurance plans restrict access to parts, tools, and service manuals. They usually keep a limited inventory of parts on hand and wait until health plans approve repair claims before ordering parts.

Some chairs require a software passcode or a physical key for any repairs. Wheelchair users who make fixes themselves may void their warranty or lose out on insurance payments for repairs.

Colorado set to become first state with right-to-repair wheelchair law

Read the full story in the Colorado Sun. See also Wheelchairs break often and take a long time to fix, leaving millions stranded from WBUR to better understand why this is important.

Repairing powered wheelchairs can be a long and costly process. But a new bill would require manufacturers to make it easier for owners and independent repairers to make fixes.

Dare to repair: A hands-on exploration of sustainability & community

Read the full story from the University of Minnesota.

You can’t break something that is already broken. Understanding this piece of wisdom is the first step in the process of repair and part of the foundation for a new freshman seminar in the College of Design, DES 1408: Dare to Repair.

Google the latest to face shareholder action on repair

Read the full story at E-Scrap News.

Activist investors have used shareholder resolutions to pressure Microsoft and Apple on their repair policies. Now, Google is feeling the heat.

Investment firm Green Century Capital Management has filed a right-to-repair proposal with Alphabet, the parent company of Google, according to a press release. The resolution from the Boston-based firm urges the technology giant to make its devices more repairable by consumers and independent repair shops.

Green Century said Google doesn’t address device repairability when assessing the environmental impacts of its electronics, and the company has been known to lobby against right-to-repair legislation. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) recently wrote about Google’s past lobbying against state repair legislation.