Good news, tinkerers: now you can do what you like to your devices without fear of patent-defying blowback.

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:

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.



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