Tool Maker Loses Lawsuit For Not Violating Another Company's Patents

from the exclusivity? dept

Patent system supporters regularly point (slightly misleadingly) to the claim that the patent system gives patent holders the right to exclude others from using their inventions. And, thus, most lawsuits we see around patents revolve around cases involving a company manufacturing a product that includes a patented invention. But what about a lawsuit for a company that deliberately chose not to license or use a patented technology, because it was too expensive?

Welcome to today's world.

A few years back, there was a lot of attention paid to videos from a company called SawStop that made a pretty cool product that protected your fingers from a table saw. You may have seen the videos:
The company tried to license the invention to various table saw makers, but after evaluating the technology, many were not convinced how well it worked and felt that the cost was way too high (both for themselves, and for consumers). In fact, some appeared to fear that if they did adopt this technology and then someone still got hurt, they were asking for a big lawsuit for promoting this technology as a safety feature.

But what about the other way around? Could someone be so bold as to actually sue for using a table saw that did not have this technology?

ChurchHatesTucker alerts us to the story of a lawsuit in Boston that involved a guy whose hand was damaged in a table saw accident while using a table saw from Ryobi. The guy's complaint was that Ryobi should have included this technology and that it should be required to protect hands. And, amazingly, the jury sided with the guy.

Yes, you read that right. The jury effectively claimed that any table saw maker is liable for injuries if it does not license this technology and build it into its table saws.

That, of course, conflicts with that basic "exclusivity" part of patent law -- and would effectively mean that SawStop has now been given total defacto control over who can be allowed to sell table saws in the US. That clearly is not what the law was intended to do. The government should never require companies to have to purchase a patent license for a technology they don't believe the market wants. And, in this case, the ruling has resulted in numerous other lawsuits against other table saw makers -- and a near guarantee that the price of table saws will go way up. Old saws can't be retrofitted, and table saw makers need to totally change their manufacturing process and greatly increase costs to offer this technology.

This seems blatantly wrong. If the government is going to require companies to use a patented technology, it seems that the only reasonable solution is to remove the patent on it and allow competition in the market place.

Filed Under: patents, requirements, safety, saws
Companies: ryobi, sawstop

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  1. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 19 Mar 2010 @ 3:20pm

    The Way To Go Is Remote Control.

    Well, I never thought I'd agree with Ronald J. Riley, but here goes. As he notes, the SawStop system is rather a kludge. It makes much more sense to put abundant distance between your hands and the saw blade.

    A push stick is a good idea, of course, but it would be better still to have something like a pole clamp, designed to fit into a slot in the saw table. Then you have an electric motor to move the clamp (or clamps) back and forth along the slot. That means that you don't need to have your hands within two feet of the saw blade. You can have a plexiglass lid which swings down, covering the whole table and has an interlock. The lid cannot be raised while the saw motor is running, and the saw motor cannot start while the lid is up. I don't believe there's enough new in this proposal to be patentable, not in the wake of KSR v. Teleflex. It's basically a matter of taking the deluxe approach to material handling you would find in a milling machine, and applying it to a table saw.

    Perhaps a radial arm saw would be a better choice of configuration, only the beam would run across the table, and be supported at both ends. The long end of the workpiece would always be in the same direction, and the saw would rotate as appropriate. If you fit the saw with three different traversing motors, one in each axis, it effectively becomes a milling machine. In principle, a milling machine is more versatile than a saw. There is a type of milling machine bit known as an end mill, which superficially resembles a drillbit, but is designed to cut sideways. Such bits may not be the most efficient means to cut metal, but such criteria would probably not be relevant to cutting wood. Assuming the machine to be programmable, cutting speed is not wildly important.

    The details would have to be worked out, but I think you might end up with a sophisticated numerically controlled tool which could do all kinds of complex cutting at a safe distance, behind a safety door.

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