‘Right to Repair’ in the HVAC sector – what you should know

There has been much talk in the media recently about ‘the right to repair’ and how Australia is lagging behind such countries as the UK and the US regarding its legislation in this area.

This is why the Federal Government’s independent research and advisory body, the Productivity Commission, is now in the process of examining our copyright law and determining whether it needs changing. But what is ‘right to repair’ and how does it affect an industry like the HVAC sector?

Simply put, ‘right to repair’ is just that – giving consumers the right to repair their own goods using a third party, rather than being tied to the OEM (original equipment manufacturer). A change to the copyright law would enable any third-party repairers to share and copy manuals, while also accessing hidden data.

Companies in the UK are now legally required to make spare parts available and US President Joe Biden has ordered that country’s Federal Trade Commission to amend its regulations to aid consumers in this area.

Why is this important?

In a world drowning in e-waste and subject to the horrors of built-in obsolescence, there are growing calls for a better way. Some industries already commonly see third-party repairers at work, despite the best efforts of the big tech companies to prevent it. Show us a teen who hasn’t used such an option to fix their smartphone or replace their screen, and you’re probably looking at the only young person within a 100-kilometre radius who doesn’t own such a device in the first place…

Legislation

The European Parliament passed a ‘Right to Repair’ resolution in November 2020, aimed at assisting in the creation of a more sustainable market and world. It promotes replacement part guarantees, extended guarantees and easier access to repair, to encourage changes in consumer behaviour. While not relating specifically to the HVAC sector, it will certainly have an impact on the way HVAC manufacturers, installers and suppliers go about their business. Here in Australia, the Productivity Commission has also been holding an inquiry into the issue, and produced a draft report in June 2021.

Considerations of the report include:

  • whether current legislative arrangements concerning repair of goods and services lead to barriers preventing consumers from sourcing competitively priced repairs
  • the impact of digital rights management on both third-party repairers and consumers, and the influence of IP (intellectual property) rights and commercially sensitive knowledge, and
  • the current effectiveness of preventing premature or planned product obsolescence.

 

The key finding, so far, has been that “there are barriers to repair for some products, and there is scope to reduce these barriers”, though the report also identified the need for further evidence on the benefits of a more extensive ‘right to repair’ policy. Submissions for further information and feedback were due by 23 July before the final report is handed to the Australian Government. This is due to happen by 29 October 2021.

Those in the Australian HVAC industry, and many other industries for that matter, would be well-advised to consider their position regarding the supply of spare parts, product information and service manuals, and keep abreast of the recommendations of the final report when it is released later in the year.