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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Lawmakers call for "right to repair" medical equipment during COVID-19 pandemic

The bill elevates the conversation surrounding the "right to repair" to the national stage, following efforts to advance legislation at the state level.

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Two Democrats in Congress on Thursday introduced legislation that would give trained technicians the "right to repair" medical equipment through the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill elevates the conversation surrounding the "right to repair" to the national stage, following efforts to advance this kind of legislation at the state level. 

The Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020 was introduced in the Senate by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon and in the House by Democrat Yvette D. Clarke of New York. Specifically, the bill would protect equipment owners, lessees, and servicers from legal liability for breaking a digital lock in order to repair a medical device during the pandemic. It would also shield them from liability for creating a copy of service materials or for fabricating patented parts on a non-commercial basis.

"There is no excuse for leaving hospitals and patients stranded without necessary equipment during the most widespread pandemic to hit the U.S. in 100 years," Wyden said in a statement. "It is just common sense to say that qualified technicians should be allowed to make emergency repairs or do preventative maintenance, and not have their hands tied by overly restrictive contracts and copyright laws, until this crisis is over."

In a recent survey from the US PIRG Education Fund, nearly 50 percent of  biomedical repair technicians said they had been denied access to "critical repair information, parts or service keys for medical equipment" since COVID-19 hit the US in March.

The legislation has support from a range of health care, engineering and public interest groups, including the American College of Clinical Engineering, ISS Solutions Healthcare Technology Management, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy & Technology. 

Across the US, several states in recent years have considered similar bills, but they've encountered industry pushback. Last year, California lawmakers pulled a "right to repair" bill that faced opposition from Apple

Earlier this year, the European Commission put forward a plan to implement a "right to repair" consumer devices like mobile phones, laptops and tablets. The proposed rules were part of the Commission's Circular Economy Action Plan and could take years to implement.