Oregon has cemented its position at the vanguard of the growing “right to repair” movement by becoming the first US state to ban manufacturers from deploying defensive “parts pairing” tactics that intentionally hamstring independent repair efforts.

The groundbreaking legislation was signed into law this week by Governor Tina Kotek after passing the state legislature with bipartisan support.

The new law, Senate Bill 1596, prohibits major electronics brands like Apple (AAPL) and Samsung from using software to prevent replacement components from operating properly unless the manufacturer has cryptographically validated them.

This “parts pairing” technique has raised concerns that companies are attempting to create repair monopolies by using technology to control the supply chain.

“Oregon’s nation-leading Right to Repair law will keep devices working and off the scrap heap”, said Nathan Proctor, senior director of the Public Interest Research Group’s (PIRG) right to repair campaign, in a statement applauding the passing of the law.

In addition to banning parts pairing schemes, SB 1596 requires manufacturers of smartphones, computers, appliances, and other electronic products to provide repair manuals, diagnostic tools, and affordable replacement components to consumers and independent repair shops.

It marks a significant win for advocates who have argued that repair restrictions waste resources, raise costs for consumers, eliminate jobs, and stifle innovation.

A Breakthrough Moment for the Right-to-Repair Movement

If you have much experience with Apple’s products (or products from some other tech giants like Samsung), you have probably run into a problem that only the manufacturer can fix. Instead of building devices with repairability in mind, these companies focus on lowering production costs as much as possible, often making devices like smartphones enormously difficult to repair.

Some of these companies, especially Apple, use various mechanisms to make sure that you or an independent repair shop can’t fix common issues, even if they should be remarkably simple. Naturally, if you can’t fix your phone, you’ll have to buy a new one from Apple (or pay for them to repair it).

Oregon’s right-to-repair push seeks to upend the increasingly closed ecosystem that many big tech brands have created around their devices and platforms. Giants like Apple have trained consumers to return faulty products to their approved networks for repair or replacement rather than visiting third-party shops.

map of us states that are pushing forward right-to-repair laws

Critics argue that this proprietary model raises costs and wastes resources by prematurely scrapping repairable devices and funneling money back to manufacturers at the expense of local businesses and consumers.

“Consumer Reports actively supports laws to protect a consumer’s right to repair their own products. It reduces waste, saves consumers money, and offers you more choices when it comes to maintaining your expensive gadgets and appliances”, said Justin Brookman, director of tech policy at Consumer Reports.

Several states have passed right-to-repair laws in recent years, including New York, California, and Minnesota. However, Oregon’s legislation is the first of its kind in tackling the increasingly thorny issue of parts pairing.

“The law also raises the bar for future right to repair legislation by preventing software from becoming a tool to enforce manufacturers’ monopolies on the repair process.”, explained Brookman.

What is Parts Pairing?

Parts pairing refers to the practice of using encryption and software verification to pair individual components and prevent unauthorized replacements from being installed. If an “improperly paired” component like a new screen or battery is introduced, the device may not function adequately or reduce its performance.

Of course, this has no real benefit to the consumer and it only functions to make you go to Apple and Apple alone for repairs or replacement.

Tech companies have defended parts pairing as an important security and safety safeguard, but critics aren’t fooled. During hearings on Oregon’s bill, an Apple representative argued that forcing the tech giant to allow uncertified components would undermine the security, safety, and privacy of Oregonians.

The Cupertino-based manufacturer of flagship consumer electronics like the iPhone and iPad was the only company to testify against the law in Oregon.

However, right-to-repair advocates counter that parts pairing represents an anticompetitive barrier designed to funnel consumers into manufacturers’ repair programs and supply chains.

“Oregon’s law is also the first in the nation to prevent parts pairing, which refers to a manufacturer’s practice of using software to identify component parts through a unique identifier”, the Consumer Reports statement reads. “Manufacturers can use parts pairing to prevent access to repair or confuse the consumer about a third-party repair’s efficacy.”

“As consumers increasingly purchase products with a software component and those products are connected to the internet, the lack of clarity around repair rules can mean that these devices exist in a gray area where even after a consumer purchases a product, the manufacturer retains control and ownership of it.”, the advocacy group further commented.

With its new law, Oregon has fired the first direct shot against this controversial practice. Manufacturers won’t be permitted to utilize parts pairing checks or throttle device functionality if unauthorized replacements are detected on consumer electronics sold in the state. The provision only applies to products manufactured after January 1, 2025.

Opposition from Tech Giants Continues

While the right-to-repair campaign has been championed by consumer groups and independent repair shops, major technology brands have been overwhelmingly opposed because it’s a threat to their bottom lines. In addition to Apple’s objections, firms like Microsoft, Amazon (AMZN), Samsung, and Utah-based Salesforce have aggressively lobbied against proposed right-to-repair legislation in other states because they all benefit from these anti-consumer practices.

The most common arguments from detractors highlight that the laws could compromise device security, expose proprietary information, or infringe on protected software under copyright law. Many also argue that untrained technicians lack the skills for complex repairs on intricate modern electronics.

However, proponents say that the measures include ample safeguards to protect intellectual property and safety standards while simply empowering consumers to choose less expensive repair options or perform basic fixes themselves.

“With Governor Kotek’s signature, our new Right to Repair law is a reasonable, common sense step to lower costs and put more power back in the hands of consumers.”, said Oregon State Senator Janeen Sollman, who co-sponsored the new law.

Far-Reaching Benefits or an Overreach?

The passage of Oregon’s right-to-repair rules underscores the growing momentum of the repair movement despite continued resistance from some of the world’s largest tech firms. With nearly 70 million Americans now covered by similar policies in several states, manufacturers may ultimately have no choice but to embrace the new paradigm.

Advocates believe that the benefits of such policies extend far beyond simply lowering repair costs for consumers. They contend that broader repair rights and reuse options will alleviate the mounting environmental crisis of electronic waste while supporting local repair jobs.

Critics, on the other hand, say that the legislation represents unwarranted government overreach that will undermine brand security, create issues for consumers over faulty repairs, and ultimately raise costs for manufacturers that get passed along to consumers as higher prices. There are also open questions about how the rules will be enforced and what penalties companies could face for non-compliance.

The Path Ahead for the Right-to-Repair Movement

With this state-level legislative win now in hand, the battle is likely to intensify as both supporters and detractors double down on their positions. For large manufacturers threatened by the new Oregon rules, one potential recourse could be overhauling product designs to rely even less on individualized components that could be paired or replaced. This would likely make devices even harder to repair.

Conversely, proponents will undoubtedly point to Oregon’s example as a catalyst for more states – and potentially the federal government – to embrace similar policies aimed at reining in excessive restrictions on repairs and empowering consumer choice.

“By applying to most products made after 2015, this law will open up repair for the things Oregonians need to get fixed right now.”, said Kyle Wiens, the Chief Executive Officer of iFixit. “And by limiting the repair-restricting practices of parts pairing, it protects fixing for years to come.”

With the ripples of Oregon’s new right-to-repair policy already beginning to spread, the conflict between grass-roots repair advocacy and powerful corporate interests shows no signs of abating.

Mounting issues like environmental sustainability and consumer affordability are acting as tailwinds and they make the movement’s momentum almost impossible to ignore by regulators, lawmakers, and tech companies, no matter how large.