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IBM Corp.’s decision to provide hardware patches only to paying customers will harm the market for support services of IBM equipment, according to coalition of businesses and consumer-focused organizations.

IBM traditionally provided free machine code patches and updates as part of its quality control, said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Digital Rights to Repair (DRTR). It was left to the machine owner to decide how to keep their machine maintained – either through IBM or a third-party service provider. But IBM is abandoning this practice.

Earlier this month, IBM began requiring visitors to the IBM Fix Central Web site to provide a serial number in order to download a patch or update. DRTR, a group championing the rights of digital equipment owners, said IBM uses the serial number to check if the machine being repaired was under a current IBM maintenance contract or under an IBM hardware warranty.

In April last year, the company started requiring customers to sign a license in order to access the machine code updates. In October 2012, IBM announced that updates would only be available to customers with IBM equipment that are either under warranty or covered by an IBM maintenance agreement.

These changes will hinder the market for support services of IBM products from non-IBM contractors and could lower the resale value of IBM equipment as well, said DRTR.

Such a practice limits the customer’s ability to resell their IBM hardware because prospective owners would have to purchase a support contract from IBM.

Gordon-Byrne said IBM is also poised to start charging re-establishment fees for equipment owners for equipment owners with lapsed IBM support contracts. The fee could be as high as 150 per cent of the yearly maintenance fee itself.

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