‘Right to repair’ movement pushes back against throwaway society

Australia must join the global ‘right to repair’ movement with a holistic reform of consumer, competition and environmental law to ensure recognition of consumers’ ‘right to repair’ goods rather than having to throw them out and replace them.

  • Internationally, consumer rights laws aim to make ‘built-in obsolescence’ obsolete
  • Expensive or discontinued spare parts major barrier to repair
  • Authorised repairers can charge exorbitantly
  • Tablet and mobiles constantly need to be replaced ie ‘updated’ to cope
  • Sustainability awareness leads consumers to lower landfill

Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law Matthew Rimmer said the US, EU, Canada and New Zealand had already made laws or were in the process of doing so to force manufacturers to repair their goods and to enable consumers to have items repaired at an outlet of their choosing.

Recognition of the right to repair would help foster a culture of responsible consumption and production in Australia,” Professor Rimmer, from QUT’s Faculty of Law, said.

“The right to repair is a critical issue of consumer rights and competition policy across a range of sectors.

“Australians and the global community are concerned about sustainability of the products they buy and are aware of the need to reuse and repurpose goods to keep them out of landfill.

“It makes economic and environmental sense to us all to be able to repair and maintain the things we buy.”

Professor Rimmer said a range of industry sectors were fighting for their right to repair:

  • Independent motor vehicle repairers have been lobbying for greater access to repair information and spare parts.
  • The National Farmers Federation is concerned about onerous restrictions imposed on them for repairing expensive agricultural machinery and equipment.
  • Everyday consumers have been raising concerns about barriers and cost of repairing phones and tablets for years.

Professor Rimmer recently appeared before Australia’s Productivity Commission and argued for intellectual property law and policy reforms to support a right to repair.

“The Commission’s inquiry was set up to examine: ‘the potential benefits and costs associated with ‘right to repair’, including current and potential legislative, regulatory and non-regulatory frameworks and their impact on consumers’ ability to repair products that develop faults or require maintenance’,” he said.

“The Productivity Commission has released an issues paper and a draft report after holding hearings with a broad cross-section of stakeholders and the community.

“The draft report covers the fields of consumer law, competition policy, intellectual property, product stewardship, and environmental law, and has mooted copyright law reform and technological protection measures to better recognize the right to repair.

“The Federal Court has considered the spart parts exemption under designs law and the High Court of Australia has also ruled on patent exhaustion.

“However, there is a need for systematic law reform to support right to repair.”

Professor Rimmer has called for innovation policies to support a circular economy: ‘New South Wales has established a circular economy network — NSW Circular’.

“The Queensland Government could establish sustainability hubs and circular economy precincts following on from its establishment of advanced manufacturing hubs.

“Australia could also play a role in the network of United Nations Development Program Accelerator Labs designed to implement the various sustainable development goals.”

Professor Rimmer’s submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry on the Right to Repair is on QUT ePrints: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/212034/

Niki Widdowson, ‘“Right to Repair” Movement Pushes Back against Throwaway Society’, Press Release, QUT Media, 8 September 2021, https://www.qut.edu.au/news?id=178481

Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law, QUT. #Copyright #Patent #Trademark #plainpacks #Access2meds #SDGs #Climate #IndigenousIP #trade #TPP