The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has unanimously voted to ramp up law enforcement against repair restrictions that prevent small businesses, workers, consumers, and even government entities from fixing their own products. The policy statement adopted today is aimed at manufacturers’ practices that make it extremely difficult for purchasers to repair their products or shop around for other service providers to do it for them. By enforcing against restrictions that violate antitrust or consumer protection laws, the Commission is taking important steps to restore the right to repair.
In May, the FTC released a report to Congress that concluded that manufacturers use a variety of methods—such as using adhesives that make parts difficult to replace, limiting the availability of parts and tools, or making diagnostic software unavailable—that have made consumer products harder to fix and maintain. The policy statement notes that such restrictions on repairs of devices, equipment, and other products have increased the burden on consumers and businesses. In addition, manufacturers and sellers may be restricting competition for repairs in a number of ways that might violate the law.
“These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunity for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said during an open commission meeting. “The FTC has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions, and today’s policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigor.”
In the policy statement, the commission said it would target repair restrictions that violate antitrust laws enforced by the FTC or the FTC Act’s prohibitions on unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The commission also urged the public to submit complaints of violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which prohibits, among other things, tying a consumer’s product warranty to the use of a specific service provider or product, unless the FTC has issued a waiver.
The Commission voted 5-0 to approve the policy statement during an open commission meeting live streamed to its website. Chair Lina Khan issued a statement. Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a separate statement.
In the latter statement, Commissioner Chopra explicitly mentioned medical equipment—highlighting the challenges of repairing ventilators at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “During the FTC’s review of this issue, we heard about hospitals worried that they would be unable to fix a ventilator because a manufacturer was seeking to deny access to repair it. Outages caused by repair restrictions like these can make the difference in times of emergencies,” he wrote.
Although the FTC’s policy statement regarding the Right to Repair only applies to electronic and automotive devices, medical Right to Repair advocates say Commissioner Chopra’s comments signal good news for the movement.
What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.