DOJ’s Statement of Interest in Right to Repair Case Underscores Importance to Ag Producers
John Deere should not be considered immune to antitrust laws because of the company’s assertion they have not surprised or deceived customers with their repair restrictions, according to a recent Statement of Interest filed by the U.S. Attorney General’s office.
The filing is a welcome development in the ongoing fight to provide producers with the right to repair their equipment, Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer said.
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter and his antitrust division team this week filed the statement to address the “proper application of the Sherman Act to repair aftermarkets.” Deere earlier filed a motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit alleging they deny plaintiffs the right to repair equipment and that denying them that ability has monopolized aftermarket repairs.
“I am excited to see that Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter and his antitrust division team agree that John Deere is violating our right to repair,” Schweitzer said.
“They acknowledge that farmers and independent repair shops are being denied the tools to simply replace a broken part. Being denied adequate tools to repair means that when a farmer’s equipment breaks or fails to operate, and when repair markets fail to function properly, agriculture suffers. Even a short delay can result in farmers ‘watching their crops rot,’” Schweitzer said.
In the 1992 case of Eastman Kodak v Image Technical Services, the Supreme Court held that the Independent Service Organizations who worked on Kodak photocopiers and other equipment were entitled to a trial because they had shown that “Kodak’s control over the parts market has excluded service competition, boosted service prices and forced unwilling consumption of Kodak Service.”
Assistant Attorney Kanter points out that the Kodak decision should guide the court’s analysis of the Deere case, and that there is an important role for competition in the markets of parts, manuals, and diagnostic tools.
Plaintiffs allege Deere is deliberately designing tractors to require software tools and other dealership-only tools, which means that farmers and independent mechanics can not troubleshoot and repair tractors.
Engine Control Units (ECUs) monitor sensors. If sensors recognize a problem or experience a software glitch, the ECU can force equipment into “limp mode” or make it inoperable, the document acknowledges.
Costly and time-consuming repairs require a Deere-authorized technician.
“Only Deere technicians have the proprietary software that can fully access an ECU. Thus, only they can command the ECU to, say, recognize a replacement part or reset an overzealous sensor. The only software available to farmers and third-parties, by contrast, has limited functionality despite Deere charging about $3,000 per year (originally $8,500 per year before the filing of this lawsuit),” the court document continues.
While right to repair is playing out on the national stage, it is also being tackled at the state level. Currently in Montana, two bills related to right to repair are making their way through the Legislature.
“I appreciate President Biden and the US Attorney General standing up to John Deere and saying enough is enough. The filing by Jonathan Kanter and the DOJ team confirms the need for Right to Repair legislation like Representative Tom France and Senator Willis Curdy’s bills to force farm equipment manufacturers to provide farmers the right to repair their equipment.”
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