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
    Bram Cohen (profile), 19 Mar 2010 @ 8:17pm

    Re: Re: To be fair to Sawstop, they've probably done nothing wrong

    I just find it troubling that a patented technology should ever be required purchasing. It seems to go against the whole exclusive rights part of the patent system.

    We seem to disagree with where the logic has gone off the rails here. I believe the logic behind the liability in this case is rock solid - seriously, have you *seen* how effective the sawstop is? Do you know how common lost fingers are? My opinion is that the system goes off the rails at the point where it gives a flat monopoly protection with no exceptions where something is crucial to the public good. That is assuming, of course, that the monopoly should be granted at all in the first place. I agree with what other commenters have said about this being an unusually non-abusive patent, but even in this case I think things would be much the same even if there were no patents - sawstop would have still invented their safety device, and still have started selling high end saws based on it, they just would have gone straight to manufacturing their own and not wasted time trying to license the technology first.

    As for Sawstop lauding this court decision, my guess is that whoever's behind it has an honest concern for keeping peoples's fingers from getting cut off. Sure it's probably good for their business (and would be without patents too) but there's no need to assume machiavellian motivation.


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