Rural Repair Gets Heard, McFlurry Machine Lawsuit Proceeds: Repair Roundup Week of September 11, 2022

Rural Repair Gets Heard, McFlurry Machine Lawsuit Proceeds: Repair Roundup Week of September 11, 2022

Access to repair services is critical for rural communities—and much more difficult to obtain, experts told a House subcommittee this week, with representatives from both parties voicing support for the right to repair. Also: federal court allows lawsuit over McFlurry repair lawsuit to advance. And: FixIt Clinic founder Peter Mui on the future of repair.

Each week, we will bring you the top repair news from around the world, curated for iFixit by the folks over at the Fight to Repair blog.

The Big News: 

Rural Repair Garners Bipartisan Support in House Subcommittee Hearing

This week the Small Business subcommittee on underserved, agricultural, and rural business development convened experts to weigh in on the impacts that repair has on rural communities. The conversation, focused on how consumers and small businesses stand to benefit from a more robust repair market, kept a bipartisan flavor with some disagreement across party lines. While there was argument over how a right to repair could be implemented, there was significant agreement among policymakers that the future of repair had especially high stakes for rural areas.

Hand-painted letters read "repair shop" over a decaying wood door
Rural repair shops, like this one in Pennyslvania, help keep underserved communities running. Photo CC by 2.0 via Christopher Paquette on Flickr.

Access to Repair Chief Concern for Rural Communities

Conversations led by lawmakers centered on the idea of access. It is a known fact that rural communities’ access to repair is far more limited than that of their suburban and urban counterparts. Repair stores can be fewer and farther between than in a suburb or city—which adds cost to the option to repair and makes it less attractive. Whether phones or tractors, the principle of access remains constant across industries.

Gay Gordon-Byrne, the Executive Director of the Repair Association, began the hearing with a high-level view on how companies are restricting repair and how a national right to repair would curtail access issues. She also argued that when companies use their market power to do things like consolidate markets or confuse customers with agreements and warranties—consumers are left paying the price. 

Brian Clark, a phone repair shop owner from New Hampshire, laid out the issue of access clearly when explaining that, in many parts of the state, if someone wants their phone fixed they have to drive an hour minimum. While this is preferable to having to buy a new phone or drive 2-3 hours to get to an Apple store, having a more robust repair market would make more consumers willing to repair over replace.

Jim Gerritsen’s Maine tomato farm runs on 1970s equipment. Image via Food Democracy Now.

Vintage Tractors to the Rescue!

Jim Gerritsen, an organic tomato farmer in Maine, told the Committee that he is running his farm mainly on machines built in the 1970’s purely because he knows that they are easier to repair. Having his farm’s operation contingent on the operation of one of hundreds of delicate sensors on late model agricultural equipment, and being forced to wait on an authorized repair person to find their way to his farm should one break is not a chance that he and his family are willing to take, he said. Their answer is to make do with older machines whose operation isn’t contingent on finicky software and sensors. Gerritsen alluded to the fact that if repair for computerized machines was less precarious, he would use them.

Some lawmakers echoed industry talking points: expressing fears that facilitating repair would stifle innovation; or making overtures about National Security concerns and “hackers.” Still, others seemed genuinely interested in lowering costs and increasing access to repair for Americans through policy. And, despite the deep political divisions in Washington D.C., there seemed to be a shared understanding on the subcommittee that both independent repair businesses and consumers would benefit from a policy that made repairs for products more widely available.

A National Repair Bill?

While Right to repair advocates are pushing for state laws, a number of federal bills in Congress remain stalled. But “stalled” isn’t “dead.” Interest by smaller groups such as this rural-focused subcommittee has been continuing, with a more significant hearing from the Rules committee (the committee that decides which bills get voted on) expected to come the week of September 18th. 

Passage of a federal repair bill this session seems unlikely. However, the increased interest across both political parties shows that common sense solutions that many repair advocates are pushing for have the potential to be popular across party lines. While this hearing only included a small subset of lawmakers focused specifically on rural issues, it’s clear that repair has appeal from a variety of stakeholders (rural or otherwise). 

This hearing gets us into the minds of the people that have the power to make a right to repair in the U.S. possible, and helps us understand their incentives. If repair advocates are able to pitch repair as a pro-consumer, common-sense reform, a congressional bill could pass.

Other News:

New Guidance Published to Boost Electricals Repair and Reuse (Circular Online)

Reuse Network published an up-to-date “comprehensive” official guidance on Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) repair and reuse, as part of a project funded by Ecosurety.

The guidance, named Fit for Reuse, will support reuse operators to meet required standards to run compliantly. The non-profit membership body dedicated to reuse charities says the guidance will help tackle the growing mountain of old or unused electricals being recycled or disposed of and, through Reuse Network, provide more high-quality, safe, repaired electrical goods to people that need them.

The guidance includes photos, tips, and revamped check sheets. Reuse Network says the downloadable and shareable information represents a “significant step” forward in professionalizing the sector, cementing best practices, and placing product safety at the heart of reuse and repair activity.

Steam Deck Repair Centers Are Now Open (Gamespot)

As of September 12, 2022, Steam Deck owners can mail in their units to official repair centers. The center will perform repairs covered under warranty at no additional cost.

Here is how it works. Players with an issue can contact Steam Support, who will provide help and instructions for shipping the unit to the repair center. While at the repair center, a team will diagnose the problem, perform any needed repairs, and ship the fixed unit back. 

Repair of McFlurry machines has long been monopolized. A company called Kytch tried to break up the monopoly with a device that lets owners do simple repairs—and then McFlurry machine manufacturer Taylor reverse-engineered the Kytch solution. Now Kytch is suing Taylor. Photo CC by 2.0 via Lady Ducayne on Flickr.

Judge Allows McFlurry Machine Repair Lawsuit to Proceed (VICE)

Kytch invented a device that allows McDonald’s franchise owners to do basic repairs on the machines and get them running again. Taylor (the company that makes the McFlurry machine) didn’t like that and, according to a lawsuit filed by Kytch, started telling its franchise partners that Kytch devices could cause “serious human injury.” 

In July 2021, Kytch filed a restraining order against Taylor claiming that the company had stolen Kytch’s trade secrets. Taylor had begun selling a device similar to Kytch’s and Kytch has alleged that Taylor stole one of their devices and reverse-engineered it. Taylor pushed back on these allegations and the lawsuit, filing what’s called a demurrer, a formalized objection to Kytch’s request for a restraining order. In a court document filed on August 26, 2022, a judge allowed Kytch’s restraining order to proceed. In its original filing, Kytch alleged 10 different claims against Taylor, including that it had falsely advertised its product and engaged in unfair competition. The judge agreed with Kytch on seven of these points.

“The court will sustain Taylor’s demurrer as to the second (tortious interference), sixth (intentional interference with business expectancy), and seventh (negligent interference with business expectancy) causes of action,” the filing said. “The court rejects Taylor’s other arguments and will overrule its demurrer on those grounds.”

India’s E-repair Market Could Be Worth $20 Billion (Live Mint)

To capture a $20 billion business opportunity amid rising demand for refurbished gadgets, India will need to formalize the domestic market for third-party repair and refurbishment of electronic items.

Ajai Chowdhry, founder of tech services firm HCL and chairman of the Electronic Products Innovation Consortium (EPIC) Foundation, said there is a growing market for electronics refurbishing and repair services.

“Just the refurbishment market for smartphones is estimated to be worth $10 billion per year,” he said, adding that put together, the electronics repair market could account for $20 billion. 

Here, Bunnie Huang, whose lawsuit against the Justice Department and the US Copyright Office had a big hearing this week, talks with DIY hardware folks from Adafruit.

Anti-Hacking Copyright Law (DMCA) Scrutinized in Free Speech Challenge (Bloomberg Law)

Matthew Green, a computer security researcher at Johns Hopkins University, and Andrew Huang, an electrical engineer and hacker, sued the Justice Department and the US Copyright Office in 2016. They argued that the circumvention ban, contained in Section 1201 of the DMCA, is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

Green claimed that he could face legal liability for writing and publishing a book about security flaws in computer software that includes hacking code. Huang and his company AlphaMax LLC want to create software that allows users to edit HD video, but requires circumventing certain encryption for HDMI signals.

“What are you allowed to do under fair use and what are you allowed to do in terms of circumvention under Section 1201?” said Blake Reid, a technology law professor at the University of Colorado. “And that’s why this case is so critical. It would solve all these problems out to the bounds of fair use, and give people a whole bunch more certainty.”

The EU Commission’s Plan for Sustainable Design of Smartphones & Tablets Is Out! Is It Enough? (Right to Repair Europe)

On 31 August, the Commission finally published its long-awaited draft ecodesign and energy labeling requirements for phones and tablets.

The most significant measure proposed by the EU Commission will be making batteries and displays for smartphones end-user replaceable with commercially available tools and for all devices. However, an exemption to this requirement exists when manufacturers respect certain battery endurance and water resistance features, meaning that consumers will have to choose between repairability and reliability. Furthermore, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will be obliged to provide information on battery minimum endurance, maintenance and management, including impacts on battery life of different use factors.

However, key issues considerably limiting the impact of the proposed act are not addressed. In short, the overall climate ambition of the measures is inconsistent with European climate targets and manufacturers will still be able to put barriers to repairs and to limit the life of their devices to sell new ones to EU citizens. The implementation of the current draft act would contribute to a reduction of 33% of emissions by 2030, while our objective is a reduction of 55% by 2030. Manufacturers will still retain the upper hand on independent repairers as well as end-users and will continue to hinder repairs via software tricks and by restricting access to repair information and spare parts.

A team troubleshoots a blender at a Fixit Clinic event. Photo via Peter Mui.

Podcast: Fixit Clinic Founder Peter Mui Talks about the Future of Repair (Fight to Repair)

Thirteen years ago Peter Mui held the first ever “Fixit Clinic,” driven by his motivation to change our disposable culture and to empower people to fix the things they own. The Fixit Clinic model, built on the idea that if people have access to tools and guidance then they can fix their things, has spawned a global following which seeks to make repair more accessible to everyone.

Paul and Jack chat with Peter about the economic privilege associated with repair, how school districts that purchased Chromebooks during the pandemic are likely in trouble, and envision a future where the things we own are produced in our local communities.

Want to get involved with Fixit Clinic? You can join their Discord server as a participant looking to fix something or an observer.