Happy New Year!
I saw an interesting article today that high-tech vehicles were posing problems to some mechanics. The mechanics claim that they can’t afford the thousands of dollars that are necessary for them to obtain the specialized diagnostic tools for each auto manufacturer. The manufacturers are claiming that they’re trying to protect their intellectual property.
Sound familiar? Yup, it’s exactly like the issues Frank Scavo and Ray Wang have written about with regards to third-party software providers being blocked from performing various maintenance/implementation tasks by the contracts and software licenses and services agreements of certain primary vendors.
On the automotive side, it’s apparently gotten to be such an issue that there’s a congressional bill called the Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act of 2009. The stated purpose of this Bill is to “protect the rights of consumers to diagnose, service, maintain, and repair their motor vehicles”. What’s really interesting are the Bill’s findings, among which say that:
- Motor vehicle owners are entitled to choose which service provider will diagnose, service, maintain, or repair their motor vehicles.
- Promoting competition in price and quality… will benefit consumers.
- Only service technician with the necessary tools and information can access the computers to perform diagnosis, service, maintenance and repair…
And the requirements of the Bill, specifically:
- Duty to Make Tools Available: The manufacturer of a motor vehicle sold, leases or otherwise introduced into commerce in the United States must offer for sale to the motor vehicle owner and to all service providers on a reasonable and non-discriminatory basis, any tool for the diagnosis, service, maintenance, or repair of a motor vehicle, and provide all information that enables aftermarket tool companies to manufacture tools with the same functional characteristics as those tools made available by the manufacturers to authorized dealers.
- Replacement Equipment: The manufacturer of a motor vehicle sold, leased, or otherwise introduced into commerce in the United States must offer for sale to motor vehicle owners, and to all service providers on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, all equipment for diagnosis, service, maintenance, or repair of a motor vehicle.
The only thing the Bill protects for the manufacturer are things that are actual trade secrets.
Wow. Of course, there are a LOT of people (and more specifically, a lot of trade association and advocacy groups) behind this Bill.
Could you imagine what would happen if this passes and someone realizes that software in cars isn’t that dissimilar to plain old enterprise software? If only there was a trade association group for buyers of enterprise software apps. 😉
But let’s talk about the other side of the issue for a moment. Do consumers have a right to have third-party companies provide service? A right? No. I don’t think there’s a right to be able to have third-party providers. [Keep in mind, when we’re talking about rights, we’re talking about things equal to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”.]
Absent a right, should third-party providers still be allowed/encouraged? I’m really torn on this. On one hand, I’m all in favor of things that inspire commerce. I like behaviors that create business, allow more people to work… and of course, things that drive down costs and dissipate apparent monopolies. On the other hand, an individual or organization who creates something should be able to protect their idea/invention and not have to give up the secret sauce simply so that other people can benefit. But there seems to be a line somewhere that once you cross it should allow for third-party companies to fill available niches. Maybe it’s where the original vendor is no longer able to provide a quality-level of service. Maybe it’s a situation where the original vendor is charging exorbitant rates. I’m not sure.
Anyone have a solution?