Consumers and independent service shops in the United States will be able to repair commercial products such as smartphones without having to rely on the manufacturers, effectively supporting the “right to repair” principle.
The Federal Trade Commission, led by Chair Lina Khan, unanimously condemned manufacturer restrictions on products that make them more difficult to repair on their own on Wednesday. The FTC has agreed to investigate restrictions that may be illegal under both antitrust laws and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a key consumer protection law that governs product warranties.
FTC Chair Lina Khan promised to use the agency’s full arsenal of tools to “root out” illegal repair restrictions in a statement.
The move is a shot across the bow of companies like Apple (AAPL), which has been chastised by right-to-repair advocates for shipping products with non-removable memory or batteries, as well as sealing devices with special glue for years. A request for comment on the vote was not immediately returned by Apple.
Aside from the use of adhesives that make it difficult to access the insides of a device, the policy statement mentions restrictions that limit spare parts availability to a manufacturer’s preferred servicers. It focuses on “software locks” and copy-protection technology, as well as user licensing language that is too restrictive. It also criticizes “illegal, overbroad” patent and trademark lawsuits that are allegedly being used to limit independent repairs.
The vote on Wednesday adds to the pressure on the tech industry. Similar tactics have been accused of manufacturers of everything from tractors to hospital equipment.
“The nation started this school year with a vast laptop shortage; we were reportedly five million short at one point,” Chopra said in prepared remarks. “The start to remote learning, already so astoundingly difficult, was worsened by unnecessary repair restrictions on refurbishing computers, leaving those students without computer access unable to learn.”
The vote comes after an FTC report on the right-to-repair issue was released in May, which found that most of the justifications offered by manufacturers for repair restrictions are “not supported by the record.” Companies defending repair restrictions have cited the need to safeguard intellectual property, improve safety and cybersecurity, and improve service quality.
Right-to-repair proponents have made significant progress in recent months, with the European Parliament last year voting to support the movement (after the European Commission introduced a right-to-repair proposal a few months earlier). In a recent video snafu, even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak chimed in with his support.