Planned Obsolescence: What Lawyers Should Know

Despite releasing what it considered an improvement, tech giant Apple came under fire recently after users accused the brand of slowing down its older iPhones to encourage people to buy newer ones. You might have privately suspected some other notable brands of doing similar things, and perhaps have even heard from irate clients who want to file lawsuits about this concept.

The practice is called “planned obsolescence,” and it’s something top brands do to naturally stimulate demand for products. According to Apple’s official response, the company used an algorithm to limit the processor operating stress on older phones to combat a problem that caused unexpected shutdowns. However, cynics blame the brand of admitting planned obsolescence.

Even after Apple’s explanation about the operating behavior of the older iPhones, users were not satisfied. They responded by filing a pair of lawsuits against the company, and alleged that the slowdowns happen near the release dates of newer iPhones.

The First French Case of Its Kind

The Apple lawsuit related to users in the United States, but consumers in other parts of the world are aware of planned obsolescence, too. People in France recently filed a lawsuit against the printer companies Brother, HP, Epson, and Canon.

There is a three-year-old law on the books in France that fines manufacturers that fail to disclose the lifespan of their products to customers. Known as the “Hamon Law,” it’s the first law passed by a country that creates preventive measures against planned obsolescence. Additionally, this lawsuit marks the only time thus far the legislation has been put to the test to see if manufacturers really will get punished.

The lawsuit against the printer companies alleges the manufacturers falsely engineered printer components and made them show end-of-life characteristics when they were still working normally. It also claims the companies made their ink cartridges appear empty, even though they had a sufficient amount of printing material in them.

A German Study Examines Planned Obsolescence and Existing Legislation

Representatives from the German Green Party also shined a spotlight on planned obsolescence by conducting a study that put forth several ways to deal with it by focusing on laws that already exist. For example, the study’s authors advocate for setting minimum standards for repairing products showing signs of planned obsolescence.

They also want companies to provide consumers with instructions for repairing the products as needed and keeping spare parts available for purchase. If repairs are not possible due to a lack of spare parts, the product labeling must clearly indicate that, allowing consumers to make decisions before their purchases. Furthermore, there is a suggestion that future products include information on labels mentioning the length of an item’s “expected useful life.”

If manufacturers comply with the ideas expressed in the research paper, it’s not hard to see how these improvements would make obvious changes to industries such as technology, marketing, and engineering. Due to the increasing number of class-action lawsuits based on product terms and conditions, providing the information at the time of purchase would also help consumers feel more at ease before buying expensive items.

Applying This Knowledge to Your Legal Career

We’ve just covered some of the most recent legal developments related to planned obsolescence. It should be clear from those examples that this topic is increasingly on the minds of the public, which means you may encounter more clients who want to take legal action against suspected incidences of planned obsolescence.

It’s in your best interest to counsel clients that achieving a positive outcome for this kind of case could be tough. As outlined in the scenario about Apple’s iPhones, the company asserted what some people saw as an admittance of planned obsolescence was a tech tweak to make older phones perform better.

Staying abreast of planned obsolescence case decisions will help you determine the best ways to assist your clients when needed. Also, because the issue of planned obsolescence could theoretically affect some of the main products you buy for your firm, maintaining a heightened awareness of it could help you become a more informed consumer. If laws change to crack down on planned obsolescence and those who reportedly facilitate it, your products could last longer.

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