John Deere hit with class action lawsuit for alleged tractor repair monopoly

CHICAGO, Ill. – John Deere has been accused of operating an illegal repair monopoly in a class action complaint filed in Chicago. The lawsuit claims that John Deere has used software locks and restricted access to repair documentation and tools, making it extremely difficult for farmers to repair their own agricultural equipment, a problem that Motherboard has documented for years and that lawmakers, the Federal Trade Commission, and even the Biden administration have acknowledged.

“Traditionally, farmers have had the option of repairing and maintaining their own tractors as needed, or bringing their tractors to an independent mechanic,” according to the lawsuit. “However, Deere has purposefully monopolized the market for repair and maintenance services of its agricultural equipment with Engine Control Units (ECUs) in newer generations of its agricultural equipment by making crucial software and repair tools inaccessible to farmers and independent repair shops.”

The lawsuit contends that John Deere is breaking antitrust laws and that Deere is using arbitrary tactics to “tie” farmers to Deere-authorized repair locations.

Farmers and independent technicians will find it impossible to repair tractors without specialist software or access from John Deere as the company has increasingly implemented software locks tied to repair components. It has also fought hard against legislation that would prohibit Deere and other firms from putting arbitrary locks on their gadgets. In recent decades, the tractor manufacturer has introduced software suites to its tractors and other agricultural equipment that not only provide useful services, but also give the corporation some influence over how the farmer operates the vehicle. If a farmer wished to fix his or her own John Deere tractor, he or she had to hack it to get over the company’s software restrictions.

The situation is so terrible that the secondary market has exploded. Part of the reason that used tractors sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars is that they are easier to fix than contemporary vehicles. Forest River Farms, a North Dakota-based farming company, recently filed an antitrust lawsuit against John Deere, alleging that “Deere’s network of highly-consolidated independent dealerships is not permitted by their agreements with Deere to provide farmers or repair shops with access to the same software and repair tools as the Dealerships,” according to the lawsuit.

“As a result of denying farmers and independent repair shops access to the necessary resources for repairs, Deere and the Dealerships have cornered the Deere Repair Services Market in the United States for Deere-branded agricultural equipment controlled by ECUs and have derived supracompetitive profits from the sale of repair and maintenance services,” the lawsuit continues, citing some of Motherboard’s reporting on the topic. According to the court case’s docket record, Deere has not yet reacted to a request for comment from Motherboard, and has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

The case is another rebuke to firms like Apple and John Deere, which want to make it difficult for individuals to repair the products they’ve purchased. Because it generates a handsome profit from pushing farmers into dealerships it controls, John Deere utilizes software to prevent farmers from performing repairs. It’s a practice that has recently attracted a lot of legislative and activist attention.

Although Deere has made some software and repair parts available to the public, the lawsuit claims that these are “insufficient to restore competition to the Deere repair services market,” and that “there are no reasonable reasons to restrict access to required repair tools.”

President Biden signed an executive order last year to make it easier for people to address their own problems. He also ordered the FTC to embrace a pro-right-to-repair platform in writing. The right-to-repair has been enshrined in federal legislation, and similar bills are making their way through state legislatures around the country. Shareholders have urged Microsoft to do more in the area of repair, and even Apple is moving away from its monopoly repair tactics.

In a statement, Kevin O’Reilly, PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign director, stated, “If John Deere continues to shut farmers out of repair, the firm may reap what it sows.” “Deere’s best bet is to fully support Right to Repair and provide farmers with everything they need to repair their tractors. Deere’s restrictions infringe on basic ownership rights, harm farmers, and put the corporation in legal jeopardy. Hopefully, this case, along with state action, pressure from the Biden administration, and the FTC’s decision to enforce repair limits, sends a message to the government: “It’s time to let farmers fix their property.”

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