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
    Chris, 19 Mar 2010 @ 7:08pm

    Re: :(

    Well, that and the fact that most safety features make the tool less useful by preventing me from doing certain normally safe things with it. For example, putting an extra button on the second grip on a saw makes it unsafe to use said saw to cut tails off trusses, because you now no longer have a second hand to balance yourself with. It also makes it dangerous and impossible to use your foot as a sawhorse.

    It basically compromises the usefulness of the tool. Whereas Sawstop would be a noninvasive way to prevent someone from injuring themselves.

    I'm really not advocating for the idea that a corporation that manufactures a dangerous tool should be liable for a user's failure to take precautions. What I'm suggesting is that this guy definitely deserved what happened to him since he stuck his fingers near the blade. As others have pointed out, if he had made a jig for pushing material, or actually kept the guard on the saw, he would not have injured himself.

    Everyone who is actually competent to operate construction equipment knows that it's way to easy to injure yourself using it. I've seen competent carpenters cut fingers off just by losing focus for a second. I've shot myself with a nailgun several times, and fallen off a roof, because I lost focus for a few seconds. None of these accidents would have been prevented with additional safety devices, because in every case the operator had become careless. All the safety devices in the world will not prevent you from getting injured if you get careless.

    So Scott, before you point fingers at the company that makes the hammer you bust your thumb with, maybe you should stop and reflect on what you were thinking about. It's not Ryobi's fault that this guy got careless around his saw and didn't stop to think about what would happen if his fingers made contact with the blade.

    It's not that companies don't want their users to be safe. It's that users don't perceive the safety features as valuable. If seat belts were only an option for me, though, you can bet your butt I would buy them, just like I buy insurance for my home and my car.

    Government is always incompetent to know what is best for everyone. It can't protect you from your own carelessness short of making every decision for you, and anyone that advocates that is advocating fascism, which is an untenable position.

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