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| 1 minute read

Should consumers have a right to repair their goods?

There's an old adage: "They don't make them like they used to". For many industries, this is a deliberate philosophy, and it makes economic sense too. The best kind of business is repeat business, and the bigger the better. If it is easier to upgrade to the latest phone than to fix the screen on your old one, then why would you bother? The electronics market is deliberately set up this way to encourage repeat purchases.

However, consumers do not have infinitely deep pockets, and some would balk at the cost of buying a brand new phone simply because of a cracked screen. There's an environmental cost to be considered too. The carbon and mineral cost of a new phone almost always outweighs the cost of repairing the one you broke. Clearly, the most environmentally friendly phone will be the one you currently own.  

As a consequence, there's a growing resurgence in small companies that can help fix broken goods, and particularly electronic and white goods. Some community groups can help too, with "repair cafes" becoming more common. 

Certainly, the economics of the situation do not particularly encourage manufacturers to make their products easy to repair. Even if repair was designed-in, manufacturers might be wary of poor-quality replacement parts flooding the market. This could damage their brand reputation, particularly if a "reconditioned" product of poor-quality was sold on as the genuine article. There are other IP considerations too. If the nature of the repair amounts to the same thing as re-making an invention covered by the manufacturer's patent, then the act of repair would constitute patent infringement.

We need to find a way to balance the economic rights of individuals to expect that their goods can be repaired without leaving manufacturers unprotected against unauthorised copying. That's why I'm so interested in the discussion around the right to repair. Earlier this year, the UK took the bold step of introducing legislation providing the right to repair in relation to white goods, but we need to extend this debate to all categories of goods. 

With a difficult economic recovery to contend with, ensuring we have a robust repair sector where users can extend the life of their devices without impacting on quality would help us keep cash in end users' pockets to ride out the uncertain times ahead. Moreover, with COP26 only days away this would now is the perfect time to take steps to help consumers reduce their "e-waste" footprints.

The right to repair, where consumers have the option to choose who fixes their products rather than just the manufacturer, is growing in the US, UK and European Union. But some companies argue that they need to keep their intellectual property confidential or there could be safety concerns with third-party repairs.


climate change