Growing up, most of us understood that what we owned was ours with which to do what we wanted. If we owned a bicycle, we could tear it apart to try to create a go-kart. If I purchased a car, I could replace its engine with a bigger or different engine, regardless of whether or not the engine replacement was necessary or just wanted.
In those days, we recognized that a very few, extra-sensitive parts of a vehicle that were subject to a warranty might lose their warranty protections if the owner made modifications to those few, extra-sensitive parts. In other words, manufacturers would say, “I will not guarantee that this machine will work if you make any changes to the flex capacitor.”
However, once an item was out of warranty, people like my grandfather (who owned a hardware store) kept busy fixing every aspect of almost every physical thing and would come to be known as one of those people who could “fix anything.”
However, a huge legal trend over the last couple decades has emerged to allow manufacturers of machinery, equipment, vehicles, electronics and other items to sell their goods subject to very serious, detailed restrictions on those goods’ uses and repairs.
For instance, in the early 2000s, American agriculture heralded the arrival of “Roundup Ready” crops from international chemical company Monsanto. Roundup is the brand name for glyphosate, a chemical that was known to kill almost all living plants. Monsanto’s scientists had genetically modified crops such as soybeans that would allow that crop to be sprayed with glyphosate but not die. Of course, in that situation, all other plants (which means, all weeds) would be killed.
Many farmers purchased Roundup Ready soybean seed and then desired to keep some of the harvested seed to plant the next crop season. Farmers called the longstanding practice of keeping harvested seed to plant the next year as using “bin-run” seed.
However, Monsanto claimed that ownership of its seed was subject to the limitation that the seed must be planted, harvested and sold and not ever have its genetic offspring replanted. After significant and expensive legal battles, Monsanto’s right to sell its product with significant restrictions was generally upheld as a matter of law.
Recently, similarly, we have seen electronics that are simply not allowed to be fixed. For instance, Apple does not want anyone making repairs to most of its devices. Likewise, large farm machinery manufacturers such as John Deere have sought laws that preclude anyone other than licensed John Deere technicians from making certain repairs to its farm machinery.
Consumers claim that precluding the ability to repair something is a money-grab by manufacturers to allow those manufacturers to corner the market on repairs or force new purchases. In contrast, manufacturers view limitations on repairs and uses as the only way to retain items’ safety and functionality.
America’s legal system, both nationally and by state, generally allows almost anything to be sold with conditions and restrictions on use and repair.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.