Exploring Right to Repair – Electronics Based Products
The arrival of big seed sellers and pesticide sellers has made agricultural practices the least profitable business, and the situation can be imagined if the farmers are dependent on the original manufacturers or the agencies authorized by them for the repair of farm equipment or tractors. — Alok Singh
It is just a device- it can fail or it can work. That’s a common perception. But what will happen if the device has been originally designed to fail in two or three years. If it has been designed in such a way then it means more business to the manufacturers. The concept of reliability in statistics figures out the probability of the working duration before a machine fails. All these probability theories need to capture a new parameter that is designed to fail. Circular economy, green supply chain, reverse supply chain, green economics, and many more environment-related concepts are being tossed by laws like patents, trade secrets, intellectual property rights, and so on.
The modern world is in a chapter where the products become outdated fast. There is a continuous race among the peers to offer the latest product to the consumers. In the life cycle of a product namely- introduction, growth, maturity, and decline- the maturity phase has shrunk to its extreme, and the decline phase is much faster than the growth phase. The maturity phase of a product is so small that a consumer is easily persuaded by the sellers to go for the latest product instead of getting their existing product upgraded or repaired. The significant difference between a laptop price of the same configuration in the current year and last year is a proxy to confirm it. Keep repair costly to generate profit, that’s the business model.
Moreover, the products are designed in such a way that when the product needs repair it’s difficult for anyone outside the manufacturing company or their authorized agencies to repair it with confidence and offer the customer some warranty on the repaired part. This further forces the consumer to buy a new product instead of retaining the older one. The economics of the modern product does not support repair. It impacts the electronics product the most. This is killing the repair market. It means that it is killing standalone mechanics or repair persons. The generic drugs are to be legally prescribed by the medical practitioners, can someone come up with the concept of generic spare parts or generic electronics parts.
A repairman learns by investing time and learnings based on their own experience which consumes a lengthier duration of time. By the time a standalone repairman becomes expert for a product the product itself becomes outdated and the repairmen who are working like an entrepreneur, who is self-reliant, and optimize their learning curve through their own effort are in unsafe job zone. Such independent workmen are struggling to continue their livelihood.
The right to repair is a campaign that is being run in developed countries. Rich nations like the United States of America and European Union countries are seeking legislation from their policymakers to legalize the repair i.e. they demand the right to repair. Right to Repair is a new story that started in the United States in the automobile sector. The Massachusetts State passed legislation that assured the consumers that they will be provided with a manual book or an instruction book which can give directions regarding repair by anyone instead of the usual practices that only the agencies authorized by the manufacturers can do the repair. Such a demand from a developed country like the United States is a signal to us that we should think about the policies related to the right to repair. We can see how the automobile sector is coming up with newer and newer features that make the life of traditional mechanics difficult to execute their work for livelihood.
The automobile has mechanical parts and electronics parts. The trend is such that automobile is becoming more electronics driven rather than mechanical driven. The electronics-dependent products have more serious repair issues. The mobile phone repair is costly enough for a consumer and it leads to purchase of a new phone instead of getting it repaired. The exchange offer which is good and available to the consumers is also a factor that is discouraging repair by the original owner. The value offered in exchange offers are a separate issue. Despite protection plans like an extended warranty, mobile phone repair is a discouraging experience.
The right to repair which originally started in the automobile industry is being replicated in the electronics-based product industry. The electronics company owners argue that they have to save their trade secret and the safety valve of a patent gives them enough arms to oppose any such rights in the electronics device market. The policymakers can engage environment protection related laws to do trade-off and even counter-arguments which are based on intellectual protection rights. The electronics and the internet of things supported by artificial intelligence are affecting every sector and every society. If the farmers of the United States are victims of the policies of the farm equipment manufacturers, who design the equipment in such a way that it’s not possible for the farmers to repair on their own, then the life of our farmers can be more miserable. The arrival of big seed sellers and pesticide sellers has made agricultural practices the least profitable business, and the situation can be imagined if the farmers are dependent on the original manufacturers or the agencies authorized by them for the repair of farm equipment or tractors.
India is a fast developing country where individual household incomes are on a rising path. The consumption of electronics-based appliances is rising. In fact, electronics are replacing mechanical appliances very fast. It’s the upcoming challenge for consumers and the job seekers to ask the policymakers to visualize the future and draft a policy that products be designed in such a way that the maturity phase sees significant improvement and the consumers get affordable repair options so that they can increase the life of their product or devices. We should also discourage any moves to replace the mechanical farm equipment with electronics-dependent farm equipment. The immediate threat to our farmers from the electronics farm devices is not visible as its application is not high. But we have to be ahead. The policymakers have to be ahead of the upcoming technology.
(Alok Singh is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Management Indore and currently is faculty of general management at NICMAR, Delhi-NCR Campus.)