Upholding the right to repair 

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News: Recently, the US Federal Trade Commission directed manufacturers to remedy unfair anti-competitive practice. The manufacturers have to ensure that consumers can make repairs, either themselves or by a third-party agency.

As a result, Apple announced that consumers will have the right to purchase spare components of their products. However, this momentum is not so strong in India. 

What is the rationale behind the “right to repair”?  

The individual who purchases a product must own it completely. They must be able to repair and modify the product the way they want to.  

The absence of repair manuals means that manufacturers hold near-monopoly over repair workshops.  

What are the challenges in repairing electronic goods 

The companies avoid the publication of repair manuals that can help users make repairs easily. 

The repair is becoming unreasonably expensive. For example, the workshops charge consumers exorbitant prices. Further, repairing is also becoming impossible because technologies are becoming obsolete.  

The manufacturers have proprietary control over spare parts. In fact, most firms refuse to make their products compatible with those of other firms.  

The companies plan obsolescence of the product.

Moreover, the products break down too soon. It’s often cheaper and easier to buy replacements rather than repair them. 

Tech giants contended that if their patented technology-based products are opened up by third parties, it can lead to emergence of security and privacy concerns. 

Big companies practically forbid other enterprises to repair their products. For instance, warranty cards mention that warranty lapses if a product is repaired from a “non-recognised” outfit. 

What is the status of repair laws in India? 

In accordance with the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, monopoly on repair processes infringes the customer’s “right to choose”.  

The right to repair has been partially acknowledged in India in the Consumer disputes jurisprudence.

For example, In Shamsher Kataria v Honda Siel Cars India Ltd (2017), the Competition Commission of India (CCI) ruled that it is anti-competitive if a company restricts the access of independent automobile repair units to spare parts. 

What are the international practices related to the right to repair? 

Many countries have enacted legislation that recognise the “right to repair” to reduce electronic waste. 

Australia Consumer Law offers limited scope for exercising the right to repair. It gives the consumers a right to request that certain goods be repaired. Then manufacturers provide spare parts and repair facilities for a “reasonable” time. The repair facilities and spare parts are not available after the specified time. The manufacturer has no obligation to provide information or diagnostic tools to customers to repair independently. 

The Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act, 2012 requires automobile manufacturers to provide spare parts and diagnostics to buyers and even independent third-party mechanics.  

The UK also introduced the path-breaking “right to repair” in 2021. It makes it legally binding on manufacturers to provide spare parts. 

Ways Forward 

A well-drafted legislation is needed in India. It will uphold the right to repair, and may aid in striking a much-needed balance between intellectual property and competitive laws in the country. 

Source: The post is based on an article “Upholding the right to repair” published in the Indian Express on 19th April 2022. 

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