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
    ChuckRunyan (profile), 19 Mar 2010 @ 8:49pm

    This is typical product liability law

    Any time a product injurs someone, their lawyer argues to the jury that a different design could have precluded the injury and therefore the product was defective. Usually, manufacturers are required by that body of law to be fairly close to average safety standards.

    The problem here is that the sawstop device is still under patent.

    This is not a problem of the patent system. No one really believes that Sawstop didn't invent something that was novel and useful to at least some consumers.

    The problem is that for the last century the American public, including most of the posters above, have let product liability run amuk. Disclaimer: I am a patent attorney. But the result of this case could have been predicted by a first year law student because it is completely unsurprising in terms of product liability law.

    But try to get legislation passed that rationalizes the system and everyone cries that the legislation is pro corporation and anti safety.

    Face it people. We have the legal system we asked for. Crying about it now does no good.

    Charles E. Runyan, Ph. D. J. D.
    Runyan Law
    4836 Zeniff Rd.
    Heber, AZ 85928
    Tel. (480) 205-9365
    Fax. (866) 593-3697

    Email: Charles.Runyan@runyanlaw.net

    View my LinkedIn profile here: http://www.linkedin.com/in/charlesrunyan
    Disclaimer: The fact I may communicate with you via electronic communications, letters or the telephone does not mean that I am your attorney or that I am giving you legal advice unless and until: (i) you first elect to hire me, (ii) we sign an engagement agreement that sets forth what legal services I will provide and how you will be charged, and (iii) you pay any required fee or security deposit. Otherwise, my comments are general and non-specific and you should not rely on them as legal advice.

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