Washington Law Review


“Planned obsolescence,” broadly defined as conduct by manufacturers to shorten product lifespans and spur consumption, is characteristic of the American economy. Such conduct largely manifests in widely accepted competitive strategies that require consumer participation: The periodic release of products or emergence of a trend, for example. In some instances, planned obsolescence conduct reaches beyond the accepted competitive practices, desired by consumers, to conduct that clearly harms consumers with no countervailing rationale. Such practices effectively cease product function prematurely, either through product failure or poor performance and inefficient repair costs. While this conduct largely evades legal capture, it intersects with many existing legal frameworks. Recognizing both the unlikeliness of a statutory proscription and the conduct’s position in our market economy, this Comment explains how existing consumer law infrastructure could limit harmful planned obsolescence. Encompassing both antitrust and consumer protection, consumer law advances consumer welfare by promoting the competitive process and ameliorating consumer harm. The Federal Trade Commission, consumer law’s dual enforcer, is uniquely situated to protect consumers from planned obsolescence that goes too far. However, greater research and careful application are necessary.

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