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. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 19 Mar 2010 @ 3:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hairbrained Argument

    It would seem that all of you who wrote in opposition to my post are in desperate need of some basic understanding of business, economics, and finance.

    Actually, I run a successful business, and have a degree from a top university in business, with a concentration in economics. And I graduated top of my class.

    How about you?

    You can't have "free" anything without reasonable boundaries of protection, and in any "free market", the definition of those boundaries is paramount.

    Again, I would suggest that you educate yourself about basic economics -- specifically the economics of competitive free markets.

    It is ludicrous to assume that ANY unprotected investment - financial, personal, or invention - would not be unfairly infringed upon (Read: stolen), were it not for reasonable protections.

    No, it would not be ludicrous. The problem is that you seem to think that infringement is automatically bad. Back here in the real free market, we know that competition is a good thing and drives innovation.

    And you must know that infringement and "stealing" are two totally different things, or must I quote the Supreme Court yet again:

    "interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The infringer of a copyright does not assume physical control over the copyright nor wholly deprive its owner of its use. Infringement implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud."

    We develop and patent technologies and products as a business. Without the protection afforded by the USPTO, we could not:

    Ah, so you cannot be trusted as unbiased or reasonable, as you are someone who profits unfairly from the system.

    But, basically what you are saying is that you have a bad business model, which you hope the gov't will continue to prop up. That's unfortunate.

    1) Secure investors or lines of credit

    False. You just need to find better investors. We have regularly highlighted investors who are against patents and believe they are dangerous. That you happen to have investors who are unfamiliar with this is an issue for you to deal with.

    2) License what we have developed (no risk-adverse company with distribution will take that gamble for most technology-driven products)

    This is also false. We have shown repeatedly, that even in situations where there aren't IP rights, licensing still occurs for a variety of reasons, including better access to those really knowledgeable about the IP in question. If you sold that access as a service combined with a license, you'd be fine.

    Again, the problem here is your business model.

    3) Secure strategic corporate or distribution partners for unique and innovative products and technologies

    False again. Relationships built on trust are important in any business relationship. If you work with companies that abuse that trust, then they will quickly build up that reputation and you won't work with them again. This is a self-enforcing mechanism. Even without patents.

    4) Securely tool up for mass production (yeah, we're a Made in the USA company...having our technology and/or products stolen by off-shore or domestic thieves whose sole expense beyond "carbon copying" our technology/products is the tooling, making their ROI attractive while in turn making ours uninvestable, is just plain financial suicide)

    You seem to recognize that there's brand value in being Made in the USA. So what's wrong with competing against offshore competitors when you know people want made in the USA products?

    5) Assert any vehicle in a civil manner in order to gain financial remuneration for theft

    You seem to be confusing theft with infringement again. And why not focus on remuneration where it matters: in the market, from selling a product.

    6) Etc., etc., etc...I could go on and on...and by the way: technically, we are defined as a "small business".


    So far all I've seen is that you've built a business model based on abusing gov't monopolies, and you really want that to continue. That is not an argument that patents are necessary. It's an argument that you don't want to change your business model.

    I question who, among the posters, is representative of an actual business concern that, by their inherent job responsibility, must actually be fiscally responsible to anyone other than themselves.

    *Raises hand* I am running a successful business and I do so while purposely avoiding IP. And I've successfully raised money as well, despite your claim that it would be impossible. We've also licensed our works, despite the fact that people could use it for free if they wanted to.

    We have corporate and distribution partners as well, some of the biggest names in the world.

    Basically everything you say would be impossible, we've done. Weird.

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