Willie Cade, who owned a computer repair and refurbishment business for nearly two decades, wants big manufacturers like Deere, Caterpillar, Apple, Medtronic and others to make it easier for customers to repair broken products. It's difficult to fix today's extensively digitized mechanical and electronic equipment without access to software and technical schematics controlled by manufacturers. Companies like Deere and Caterpillar use their control to freeze out independent repair shops and build up their own parts and services businesses, a practice Cade calls "monopolistic."
Cade believes grandfather Theo Brown, holder of more than 150 patents, would join his odd-bedfellows coalition of farmers, environmentalists and hospital executives lobbying state lawmakers around the country to enact "right to repair" bills that would require manufacturers to give repair shops the digital tools they need to fix equipment. The Illinois bill died in committee, but backers plan to revive it next session.
There's big money in repairs. Research firm IBISWorld estimates repair spending in the U.S. last year at $39.1 billion for heavy machinery and $22.4 billion for cellphones, computers and electronics.
Manufacturers have a strong financial incentive to limit customers' repair options. Making an iPhone hard to fix drives sales of new ones. For Illinois heavy-equipment makers, controlling repairs drives lucrative service work to dealers and boosts sales of parts, a growing portion of manufacturers' revenues.