Big (USB-C)hanges on the horizon: The EU’s common charger

In September 2021, the European Commission put forward a legislative proposal (which took the form of an amended version of the EU’s current Radio Equipment Directive) to establish a common charging solution for certain consumer electronic devices. On 7 June 2022, the European Parliament and EU Member States reached a provisional agreement which both confirms and extends the European Commission's tabled proposal.

If approved, the amendments to the EU’s current Radio Equipment Directive will have huge impacts on manufacturers of small and medium portable electronic devices. We’ve outlined what these “first of their kind” requirements will look like below, including what products would be affected and by when compliance would need to be achieved.

A common charger: Some background

The European Commission has supported a common charging solution for mobile phones and similar electronic devices since 2009. While the previous voluntary approach helped to bring down the number of mobile phone chargers from 30 to 3 within the last decade, this approach did not achieve full harmonisation.  As such, in September 2021, the European Commission put forward a legislative proposal to establish a common charging solution for certain devices. The proposal took the form of an amended version of the EU’s current Radio Equipment Directive.

On 7 June 2022, the European Parliament and EU Member States reached a provisional agreement which both confirms and extends the Commission's tabled proposal.

The key new requirements: What will they look like?

The key new requirements that will be placed on manufacturers of new “small and medium-sized portable electronic devices” include:

  • Harmonisation of the charging port: USB-C will be the common charging port for all such devices to allow consumers to charge their devices with the same USB-C charger, regardless of the device brand.
  • Unbundling the sale of a charger from the sale of the electronic device: In-scope electronic devices must be offered without an external power supply inside the box. Manufacturers retain the right to offer a bundled solution provided that they also offer an unbundled solution of the exact same product.
  • Harmonisation of fast charging technology: The use of fast charging technology will be harmonised in a bid to prevent different producers unjustifiably limiting the charging speed achievable and ensure that the charging speed is the same when using any compatible charger for a device.
  • Improved information for consumers: Producers will be required to provide consumers with information about a device’s charging performance, including information on the power required by the device to charge optimally and if it supports fast charging.

Additionally, the proposal paves the way for harmonised wireless charging solutions. Given that this technology is evolving rapidly and in order to limit a potential future fragmentation of the market, the Commission has promised to assess the different charging technologies available in view of possible future harmonisation.

What products are in scope?

The obligations outlined above will apply to all new smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, handheld videogame consoles, headphones, headsets, portable speakers, e-readers, keyboards, mice, portable navigation systems, earbuds and laptops that are rechargeable via a wired cable.

What happens next? 

The Commission’s proposal for a revised Radio Equipment Directive will now need to be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Council by ordinary legislative procedure. Following official adoption of the proposal (which is currently set to occur in September 2022), Member States will have 12 months to transpose the amendments into their national legislation and a further 12 months to apply them.

This means that a transition period of 24 months will apply to all categories of products in scope. The provisions are therefore likely to apply to such products as of Q4 of 2024, except in the case of laptops which will benefit from a 40 month transition period. The new rules would not have retrospective effect and would not apply to products placed on the EU market before the date of application.

To ensure full interoperability of a harmonised charging solution, changes to the Directive 2009/125/EC (the “Eco-Design Regulation”) which governs the rules application to the external power supply will also be required. A review of the Eco-Design Regulation is expected to be launched during the remaining months of 2022, with a view to such amendments coming into force at the same time as the amended Radio Equipment Directive.

Application to the UK

The UK government has announced it is not currently considering replicating the above requirements.

Under the current post-Brexit arrangements (namely the Northern Ireland Protocol), the new requirements would however apply to Northern Ireland which continues to follow a majority of European Single Market rules. Note however that this may change in the near future, given that the UK Government is currently seeking to amend the Protocol.

Hogan Lovells is actively monitoring developments in this space - keep an eye out for our future updates.

 

 

Authored by Valerie Kenyon and Vicki Kooner.

 

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