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SCOTUS rules in favor of you fixing your smartphone and reselling its parts

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in favor of consumers in the Impression Products v. Lexmark International case. It's a massive win for the repair world because it means that companies like iFixit that sell detailed repair kits, complete with replacement parts in some, aren't violating patents.

Kyle Wiens, the founder of iFixit.com, took to Twitter to celebrate the Court's decision, citing specific language used by Justice Roberts that directly referenced smartphone repair:

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What does this mean for you, the smartphone tinkerer? It means you're free to modify your phone with parts you've purchased off the internet. It also means you can, for example, more easily resell those older handsets you've maybe collected from friends over the year and fixed up for fun, without fear of repercussions from the manufacturers that made the phone and hold the patent for its design.

Charles Duan, Director of the Patent Reform Project at Public Knowledge, said that this decision is indeed "a strong recognition that consumer rights have primary importance." He continues:

Consumers purchase patented products every day, and companies who manufacture and sell these products have long sought to leverage patent law into a tool to control how consumers use and resell those products now owned by the consumer.Corporate restrictions on how products are used and resold are costly and onerous for consumers. The decision today largely puts a stop to that practice, at least with respect to patent law. Nevertheless, patent law is not the only tool that companies use to restrict how consumers use and resell their possessions -- copyright law, trademark law, clever contracts and end-user license agreements continue to burden consumers with restrictions that are often unbalanced and unfair. We will continue to oppose these breaches upon consumer ownership rights in these areas.

The Impression Products v. Lexmark International case was originally filed because of printer cartridges. Resellers like Impression Products had figured out how to pop out the chips inside Lexmark printer cartridges that were originally placed there as an effort against being refilled and resold. But that prompted Lexmark to sue those resellers, using the "patent exhaustion" doctrine as its right. Impression Products was tired of being sued, and so it filed this plea with the Supreme Court to prevent anymore future repercussions.

If you'd like to read more about the case, the SCOTUS's syllabus on the case is available in PDF format.

Florence Ion was formerly an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.

16 Comments
  • Thankfully common sense prevails over greed at least some of the time.
    If they want to stop people from fixing devices either they need to fix it at cost or buy their shoddily made devices back. If they want control then they've got to take responsibility. Not that it would ever happen.
  • Wonderful news for consumers too.
  • Sweet
  • This was an important case for my company. We are an MFD (Multifunction Device -printers/copiers) reseller and we rely on purchasing reman toners for our clients. If we couldn't continue to use remans we would have to raise our rates and we would no longer be competitive. But most importantly of all is we also own a company the does remanned toner (mainly HP). If they had ruled in favor of Lexmark it would have put them out of business. I know this has nothing to do with Android. I was just excited and wanted to share.
  • Jerry is now free to have extra fun with that Jelly phone now👍
  • Finally, phones join the rest of the world's products. Ownership should mean a lot, after you buy something(more than any mfg, they lose the right to say what you can do with your product). Could you imagine if you modded your car, and had to go to court to defend yourself, because you broke a patent?
  • Awesome news
  • The only bad news is Neil Gorsuch didn't participate in this case, so this might be the last time the Supreme Court rules in favor of consumers over business for quite some time.
  • Maybe. But there's a well documented informal tradition of Supreme Court justices moving towards the center (and frustrating the presidents that nominated them) once they are confirmed to the high court. Of course it doesn't happen with *all* of them. But from what I understand Gorsuch has an independent streak and sometimes bucks against executive power. So time will tell...
  • Except that it was 7-1. If Gorsuch did side with Lexmark it would be 7-2 for consumers.
  • This is a huge case decision. This had the potential to be the next Citizens United if they'd ruled in favor of Lexmark. It would have been a free-for-all of businesses enacting patent rules for anything involving their products. Imagine not being able to resell pretty much anything. But, luckily they made the right decision today to protect the rights of consumers. Thumbs up! And for those concerned about Gorsuch not being involved, keep in mind that they are tied right now as most people think of it: 4 liberal and 4 conservative judges. Even still, the decision was 7-1. So, there is still hope that even with Gorsuch, they can rise above biases to make the correct decisions.
  • This is good as long as the companies aren't expected to warranty potentially shoddy work putting in a new battery. It's not Samsung/Apple's fault if the guy putting on the new screen does it wrong.
  • There was nothing in the decision that indicated that companies were required to warrant modified hardware. Alas, your straw man wasn't necessary.
  • Not a straw man since last time this was mentioned, people said that Apple/Samsung should have to fix it under warranty after some random guy messed with the innards.
  • My guess is that we'll start seeing "attractive prices" on leases and outright buying a product will slowly become a PITA.
  • Maybe, but at least people will have a better grip on the total cost of ownership of these devices.