Policy Statement of the Federal Trade Commission on Repair Restrictions Imposed by Manufacturers and Sellers

by | Jul 22, 2021 | Industry News, Member News, Policy & Law

In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (“Commission”) called for public comment and empirical
research on repair restrictions, which culminated in the Commission’s “Nixing the Fix” report to
Congress.1 The Commission is now issuing this policy statement regarding its enforcement policy
with respect to repair restrictions.

Restricting consumers and businesses from choosing how they repair products can substantially
increase the total cost of repairs, generate harmful electronic waste, and unnecessarily increase
wait times for repairs. In contrast, providing more choice in repairs can lead to lower costs,
reduce e-waste by extending the useful lifespan of products, enable more timely repairs, and
provide economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and local businesses.

In 2019, the Commission convened a workshop on “Nixing the Fix” and sought input from consumers,
independent businesses, manufacturers, and others. Through this work, the Commission uncovered
evidence that manufacturers and sellers may, without reasonable justification, be restricting
competition for repair services in numerous ways, including: imposing physical restrictions (e.g.,
the use of adhesives); limiting the availability of parts, manuals, diagnostic software, and tools
to manufacturers’ authorized repair networks; using designs that make independent repairs less
safe; limiting the availability of telematics information (i.e., information on the operation and
status of a vehicle that is collected by a system contained in the vehicle and wirelessly relayed
to a central location, often the manufacturer or dealer of the vehicle); asserting patent rights
and enforcement of trademarks in an unlawful, overbroad manner; disparaging non-OEM parts and
independent repair; using unjustified software locks, digital rights management, and technical
protection measures; and imposing restrictive end user license agreements.

The Commission’s report on repair restrictions explores and discusses a number of these issues and
describes the hardships repair restrictions create for families and businesses. The Commission is
concerned that this burden is borne more heavily by underserved communities, including communities
of color and lower-income Americans. 2 The pandemic exacerbated these effects as consumers relied
more heavily on technology than ever before.3

1 Federal Trade Commission. Nixing the Fix: An FTC Report to Congress on Repair Restrictions. (May
2021) Nixing the Fix report explores consumer repair issues | Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov)
2 See id. at 3-4.
3 Id. at 4-5.

While unlawful repair restrictions have generally not been an enforcement priority for the
Commission for a number of years,4 the Commission has determined that it will devote more
enforcement resources to combat these practices.5 Accordingly, the Commission will now prioritize
investigations into unlawful repair restrictions under relevant statutes such as the Magnuson-Moss
Warranty Act6 and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.7

First, the Commission urges the public to submit complaints and provide other information to aid in
greater enforcement of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and its implementing regulations.
While current law does not provide for civil penalties or redress, the Commission will consider
filing suit against violators of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act to seek appropriate injunctive
relief. The Commission will also closely monitor private litigation to determine whether the
Commission may wish to investigate a pattern of unfair or deceptive acts or practices or file an
amicus brief. Further, the Commission will explore rulemaking, as appropriate.

Second, the Commission will scrutinize repair restrictions for violations of the antitrust laws.
For example, certain repair restrictions may constitute tying arrangements or monopolistic
practices—such as refusals to deal, exclusive dealing, or exclusionary design—that violate the
Sherman Act.8 Violations of the Sherman Act also violate the prohibition on unfair methods of
competition codified in Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

Third, the Commission will assess whether repair restrictions constitute unfair acts or practices,
which are also prohibited by Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. In addition, the
Commission will analyze any material claims made to purchasers and users to ascertain whether there
are any prohibited deceptive acts or practices, in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade
Commission Act.

Finally, the Commission will bring an interdisciplinary approach to this issue, using resources and
expertise from throughout the agency to combat unlawful repair restrictions. The FTC will also
closely coordinate with state law enforcement and policymakers to ensure compliance and to update
existing law and regulation to advance the goal of open repair markets.

4 The Commission has brought only one case alleging a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
in the past decade. In the Matter of BMW of North America, LLC, No. 132-3150 (October 2015). During
this period, the Commission’s efforts have included issuing several warning letters to companies
that appeared to be engaged in warranty tying in violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. See
FTC Staff Warns Companies that It Is Illegal to Condition Warranty Coverage on the Use of Specified
Parts or Services, https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2018/04/ftc-staff-warns-companies-it-illegal-condition-warranty-coverage.

5 In conjunction with the Nixing the Fix Workshop, the Commission sought public comments and
submissions of empirical research concerning repair restrictions. The full docket of public
comments and empirical research submissions is available at:

https://www.regulations.gov/docket/FTC-2019-0013/document and

6 15 U.S.C. § 2301 et. seq. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act prohibits, among other things, tying 
arrangements that condition a consumer product’s warranty on the use of a third-party service
provider or on the use of a particular product, unless the warrantor provides the services or
products for free or obtains a waiver from the FTC. 15 U.S.C.
§ 2302(c).

7 15 U.S.C. § 45. Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits unfair or deceptive
actors or practices, as well as unfair methods of competition, in or affecting commerce. Section 5
also encompasses violations of the Sherman Act, which prohibits certain exclusionary and other
anticompetitive conduct.

8 See, e.g. Eastmann Kodak Co. v. Image Technical Servs., Inc., 504 U.S.
451 (1992); United States v. Microsoft, 253 4 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

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