Not long ago, a shade-tree mechanic with average skills could fix whatever was wrong with your car. These days, cars are far more advanced. On-board computers allow cars to diagnose themselves for most common problems and make engines run more efficiently while squeezing out more power than ever before.
All this advanced technology has put the shade-tree mechanic pretty much out of business. Working on a car today requires advanced training and technical ability. The technology inside and outside the car consists of patented software, chip designs and proprietary systems. But the benefit to consumers has been enormous. These inventions are covered by patents to encourage and reward innovation.
American innovation is dependent on the protection of intellectual property. It encourages innovation by discouraging theft. But there are those who are philosophically opposed to intellectual property protection. Left-leaning public interest law firms and activist groups led by U.S. PIRG, an association of public-interest law firms, have been trying for years to undermine intellectual-property protection through “right to repair” campaigns in state legislatures. During this legislative session they are pushing their anti-innovation agenda in the guise of a “right to repair” advanced medical devices.
In my state, Texas, Rep. Thresa Meza has introduced a bill this session titled the Medical Device Right to Repair Act. This bill would require manufacturers of highly advanced medical devices like MRI machines, CT scanners and PE-scan systems to disclose confidential and patented design and service information.
A “right to repair” sounds reasonable, but forcing manufacturers to disclose their proprietary technologies would erode the incentive for innovation and endanger patients. Today the Food and Drug Administration regulates and monitors medical-device safety. The FDA demands that original equipment manufacturers follow its guidelines regarding software updates, patches and more-comprehensive repair jobs. The uncertified third-party service providers who would conduct repairs if these bills pass aren’t regulated by the FDA. There’s no assurance they will follow FDA standards.
Forcing disclosure of these advanced medical technologies and opening them up to uncertified technicians may also represent a cybersecurity threat. You may be troubled by the idea that voting machines can be hacked, but what about opening up MRI machines and PET scanners? Patients could be endangered by sabotaged medical devices, but they might also suffer from malfunctions that cause inaccurate test results and thus unidentified medical problems. Such concerns also include direct theft of American innovation by bad actors seeking advanced U.S. technology, such as China.
“Right to repair” sounds sympathetic but it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s not being pushed by small repair businesses but by ideological public-interest law firms and activists as an attack on intellectual property.
State legislators in Texas and elsewhere would be making a terrible mistake by falling for this bait and switch, risking the health of patients and opening up the medical device industry to dangerous and unfair vulnerabilities.