The debate on the right to repair in 2022

The right to repair became a hot topic again when the Biden administration in July introduced an executive order promoting competition in the economy.

Biden Executive Order

the executive order signed by President Biden called on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to limit anti-competitive practices as a means of promoting economic growth in the United States. This order included a recommendation to the FTC to make it easier and lower the cost for consumers to repair the items they own by limiting the ability of manufacturers to prohibit self-repairs or third-party repairs of their products. , according to a White House fact sheet.

While the right to repair affects many products, agricultural markets are specifically noted as becoming more concentrated and less competitive, meaning farmers and ranchers have to pay more to repair their products.

Equipment manufacturers’ use of proprietary repair tools, software and diagnostics has prevented farmers from repairing their own equipment, according to the White House fact sheet. This forces them to pay dealer rates for repairs that a farmer or third-party repair shop could have done much cheaper.

the The FTC voted unanimously to enact this ordinance and strengthen law enforcement against redress restrictions. The commission said it would target remedy restrictions that violate FTC-enforced antitrust laws or FTC statute prohibitions on unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

“These types of restrictions can dramatically increase costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close business opportunities for independent repair shops, create unnecessary e-waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resilience,” says Lina. Mr. Khan, President of the FTC.

In November, Apple, a major player in the right to repair movement, announced a new self-service repair program which allows customers to purchase genuine parts and tools to repair their phones, tablets and computers through the Apple Self Service Repair online store. With Apple controlling the store and only allowing genuine parts, it’s still a long way from true third-party right-to-repair support.

Senator Tester’s Bill

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced agricultural repair law this would guarantee farmers the right to repair their own equipment and end the current restrictions on the repair market.

Senator Jon Tester posing in front of a tractor.

Senator Jon Tester

“I’ve been a farmer all my life, and I’ve seen the unfair practices of equipment manufacturers make it increasingly difficult for people to work on their tractors themselves, forcing them to go to a licensed mechanic and pay an arm and a leg for the necessary repairs,” says Tester. “Manufacturers have prevented producers from fixing their own machinery to increase corporate profits, and they have done so at the expense of family farmers and ranchers, who work hard every day to harvest the food that feeds families for across the country. Farmers operate within tight windows and with tight margins, and they simply can’t afford to waste time or money taking their equipment to the dealer’s authorized mechanics in the middle of a season. They must be able to repair their equipment themselves, and this legislation will guarantee them that right.

The tester bill would require equipment manufacturers to make available the parts, tools, software, and documentation owners they would need to repair, diagnose, and maintain their own equipment. This would ensure that parts are replaceable with commonly available tools or that specialist tools are provided to owners on fair and reasonable terms. When a manufacturer no longer produces documentation, parts, software, or tools for a product, this bill requires copyrights and patents to be placed in the public domain.

In addition, this bill would require that ownership of data be returned to farmers, that means be provided to disable and re-enable digital security features on equipment, and that third-party software be able to ensure interoperability with other parts or tools.

Tester’s proposed legislation has found support from the American Economic Liberties Project, which works to translate the intellectual victories of anti-monopoly movements into concrete policies.

“With this legislation, Senator Tester is taking an important step toward revitalizing American agriculture and putting power back where it belongs: with American farmers, ranchers and producers,” said JD Scholten, senior adviser to the American Economic Liberties Project.

This Senate bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), has been introduced, but no further action has yet been taken.

Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, presented the Automotive Industry Right to Fair and Professional Repair Act (REPAIR). The law aims to take action similar to Tester’s bill against the auto industry, ensuring consumers have access to affordable vehicle repairs, tools and secure vehicle data.

What the manufacturers say

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) is a North America-based international trade group that represents more than 1,000 manufacturers and suppliers of off-road equipment in the agriculture and construction industries.

“Equipment manufacturers have always supported a farmer’s right to safely maintain, diagnose and repair their equipment,” said Stephanie See, director of state government relations for AEM. “That’s why we remain committed to helping farmers reduce downtime and maximize productivity. We will continue to work with elected officials on common sense, bipartisan solutions to strengthen the agricultural economy and revitalize rural America.

Kurt Coffey, vice president of Case IH North America, says the company is working with AEM and other industry partners to ensure Case IH meets customer needs on this issue.

“At Case IH, we aspire to ensure that the customer can have access to repair,” says Coffey. “Now that means [being able to] repair or run a code to tell which sensor is faulty and gain access to the part.

Case IH offers diagnostic tools that dealers and customers can plug into their CAN bus to identify what they may need to repair, and what parts are needed.

John Deere said in a statement that it supports a customer’s right to “safely maintain, diagnose and repair” equipment and provides the tools, parts and information to enable farmers to work on machines. John Deere also offers a diagnostic tool that customers can use to view schematics, code definitions and other information to perform their own repairs.

John Deere does not support the right to modify equipment software, citing safety risks, emissions compliance, and engine performance.

Litigation of the right to compensation

John Deere tractors lined up at an auction.

David Ekstrom

Three lawsuits have been filed this year against John Deere for right to repair.

Forest River Farms in North Dakota filed an antitrust class action lawsuit in January over what the lawsuit alleges is market monopolization of repair services for Deere equipment built with on-board central computer engine control units (ECUs). The lawsuit seeks damages for farmers who repaired equipment through Deere from January 12, 2018 to present.

According to the plaintiffs, owners of John Deere tractors have always been able to repair their own equipment or take it to an independent repair shop. Now that the software is essential to the operation of the equipment and Deere chooses to make it available only to authorized dealers and technicians, the software essentially prevents owners from making repairs.

The lawsuit calls Deere “arguably the largest player in the agricultural machinery markets in the United States,” saying the company’s market share exceeds that of the two largest manufacturers combined.

the second trial was filed on behalf of Trinity Dale Wells, an Alabama farmer, and the third class action was filed by Plum Ridge Farms in Illinois, making similar claims.

In March, the National Farmers Union, six affiliates, Farm Action and four consumer groups filed a lawsuit with the FTC alleging that Deere illegally forces farmers to pay a dealer when their tractors or other equipment break down. The groups are asking the FTC to order Deere to end its “policy of refusing to provide customers with diagnostic software and other information necessary to repair Deere equipment they own.”

John Deere says it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

About Keneth T. Graves

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