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5 Sept 2019

NBlog Sept 5 - right to repair vs IPR

This week I've been contemplating the right to repair movement, promoting the idea that consumers and third parties (such as repair shops) should not be legally denied the right to meddle with the stuff they have bought - to diagnose, repair and update it - without being forced to go back to the original manufacturer (a monopolistic constraint) or throw it away and buy a replacement.

Along similar lines, I am leaning towards the idea that products generally ought to be repairable and modifiable rather than disposable. That is, they should be designed with ‘repairability’ as a requirement, as well as safety, functionality, standards compliance, value, reliability and what have you. I appreciate that miniaturization, surface mounting, multi-layer PCBs, flow soldering and robotic parts placement make modern day electronic gizmos small and cheap as well as tough to repair, but obsolescence shouldn’t be built-in, deliberately, by default. Gizmos can still have test points, self-testing and diagnostics, with replaceable modules, with diagrams, fault-finding instructions and spare parts.

The same consideration applies, by the way, to proprietary software and firmware, not just hardware. Clearly documented source code, with debugging facilities, 'instrumentation' and so on, should be available for legitimate purposes - checking and updating the information security aspects for instance.

On the other hand, there are valuable Intellectual Property Rights to protect, and in some cases 'security by obscurity' is a valid though fragile control. 

Perhaps it's appropriate that monopolistic companies churning out disposable, over-priced products to a captive market should consider their intellectual property equally disposable.  Perhaps not. Actually I think not because I believe the concept of IPR as a whole trumps the greed of certain tech companies. 

The real problem with IPR, as I see it, is China, or more specifically the Chinese government ... and I guess the Chinese have a vested interest in disposability. So that's a dead end then.

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