The movement for consumers’ right to repair the purchased goods without going to the manufacturer has gained worldwide attention in recent years. This movement aims to persuade businesses to make spare parts, tools, and information on how to repair gadgets available to their consumers to increase the lifespan of products and reduce the cost of repairs for products that are no longer covered by warranties and replacements.
The Government of India too has come out with a plan to develop a regulatory framework for ‘Right to Repair’ framework, and a committee has been constituted by the Department of Consumer Affairs to make recommendations for the same. Such a regulatory framework will allow citizens to mend their consumer durables, phones, cars etc without depending on the manufacturers. The sectors that are initially being targeted are farming equipment, mobile and tablet devices, hardware, battery, memory and processing power, consumer durables, automobiles, and automotive equipment.
Right to repair movement
Right to repair movement found its first legislative recognistion in the USA. Massachusetts in the USA enacted the Right to Repair Act of 2012 requiring manufacturers to provide the necessary documents and information to allow anyone to repair their vehicles. The law was further amended to mandate the manufacturers to implement an open data platform. Both the authorised repair personnel and independent repair businesses were allowed to access information for repair through a mobile app or in other comparable ways.
The UK brought in the right to repair law on July 1, 2021, through ‘Ecodesign for energy-related products and energy information regulations, 2021’ with the aim of increasing gadget lifecycle to 10 years. This regulation requires all makers of electronic appliances to offer users spare parts so that they can repair their products on their own or at repair shops. However, this regulation exempts products like cell phones. Manufacturers have two years to comply with the law.
EU’s right to repair laws mandate manufacturers to ensure that electronic goods can be fixed for up to 10 years. The European Parliament accepted recommendations for legislation granting consumers the right to repair their electronics in July 2017. These recommendations listed consumer appliances, including refrigerators and washing machines, to form part of the right to repair. In October 2019, the EU approved regulations requiring manufacturers to provide components to qualified repairers for ten years beginning in 2021. EU approved and commissioned a new circular economy action plan in 2020, including the right to repair electronic products.
In India, while there is no specific law on right to repair, the Competition Commission of India, in the case of Shamsher Kataria v. Honda Siel Cars India Ltd. (2014 SCC OnLine CCI 95), determined that exclusive access to spare parts only to the authorised repairers of vehicle manufacturers amounted to an anti-competitive practice. Accordingly, the CCI mandated that the manufacturers need to make spares available to all the repairers to promote healthy market competition. This was a welcome decision, but its impact was limited to only such vehicle manufacturers who are in dominant position in the Indian market. This order has certainly opened a window for similar orders in other sectors.
It is a known fact that large electronics manufacturers promote “planned obsolescence,” a system whereby any equipment is designed to only last for a specific amount of time, after which the product needs replacement. This has serious environmental concerns besides affecting consumer rights. Replacing thousands of devices as part of planned obsolescence results in wastage of natural resources and adds to carbon credit. Supporters of the movement have argued for access to technology and spare for consumers to enable them to repair goods independently. Moreover, small repair shops not necessarily tied to the manufacturers are also seen as essential to the local economy.
Powerful industrial and technological giants like Apple and Microsoft have strongly opposed the right to repair campaign. They reject this movement by claiming that allowing third parties access to their proprietary information or properties will result in infringement, besides putting gadgets’ safety and security at risk. Many businesses contend that granting unfettered access to repairers will result in unauthorised access to private diagnostic data and software.
In a country like India, the right to repair is essential for environmental and economic considerations besides from the point of view of access. A law on right to repair will usher in and empower small local repair businesses. They will also help the consumers who cannot replace and substitute gadgets at a regular frequency. Planned obsolescence arguably aids economic monopolies and results in unfavourable environmental outcomes. The considerations around protecting intellectual property and proprietary rights can be sufficiently addressed through a legal framework that gives repairers limited access and rights only in the aid of repair. The Government has made a beginning, it will be interesting to watch how this development unfolds.
(By Abhishek Tripathi (Managing Partner) and Sakshi Tripathi (Associate), Sarthak Advocates & Solicitors)