The National Farmers Union, along with six of its state affiliates and five “right to repair” organizations, filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission Thursday alleging farm equipment giant John Deere is violating antitrust laws by restricting access to software embedded in its machines.
The petitioners — which include Farmers Unions in Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, the Digital Right to Repair Coalition and iFixit — accuse John Deere of forcing farmers who buy the company’s equipment to also purchase repair services from Deere technicians. This behavior, they argue, violates both the Sherman and the FTC acts.
“Essentially, Deere is trying to leverage the really dominant market power it has in the original equipment market and using that market power to try to monopolize a separate market, the market for repairs,” lawyer Jamie Crooks said during a panel discussion Thursday. Crooks is a managing partner at Fairmark Partners, which prepared the complaint.
The effort comes as the broader debate for the issue of whether or not companies should be required to give individuals the “right to repair” items they purchase makes its way through state and federal legislatures, as well as the U.S. court system. John Deere, which has found itself in the crosshairs, is currently the subject of six class-action lawsuits for alleged antitrust violations.
A John Deere spokesperson told Agri-Pulse that the company has no comment on the FTC complaint at this time.
In July, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the FTC to “limit powerful equipment manufacturers from restricting people’s ability to use independent repair shops or do DIY repairs.” The FTC later announced it would “scrutinize” repair restrictions for violations of antitrust laws and prioritize investigations into any unlawful repair restrictions.
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Betsy Lordan, an FTC spokesperson, told Agri-Pulse that under Section 5 of the FTC Act, the agency has the jurisdiction to bring Right to Repair cases alleging harm to consumers, harm to competition, or both.
Lordan said, to her knowledge, the agency has not brought any new Right to Repair cases since last July. However, she did note that “bringing cases takes some time.”
Crooks noted that one of the reasons the groups filed the complaint was to get a quicker FTC response on right to repair. While Biden’s executive order directed the FTC to consider rule making, the agency has not yet proposed any official rules. He said this process can take years and may be slowed down by Congressional interference.
The complaint, however, is being filed as an enforcement action, which Crooks believes could bring forward quicker action.
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