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, 20 Mar 2010 @ 5:28am

    The Way To Go Is Remote Control ( to Chris, Mar 19th, 2010 @ 7:17pm)

    Bear in mind that a table saw is a means, not an objective. The objective is to cut wood. There are many kinds of saws, and one can choose a kind of saw which is comparatively easy to design guards for. If you look at a radial arm saw, the saw itself is much more mobile than the saw in a table saw, precisely because it is suspended over the table, rather than being built into the table. There is a joint where the saw joins the overhead arm, and another joint where the overhead arm joins the table, so that the saw can cut lengthwise, and widthwise, and anglewise, without having to turn the workpiece around. That means that the workpiece has to move around less. Since the the saw is considerably smaller than the workpiece, that makes it easier to design a guard.

    Suppose you have an enclosure two feet wide, and five feet deep. On either side, there is a slot four feet long, and perhaps two inches high, partly filled by an adjustable-height roller. This means that you can run a sheet of plywood through, lengthwise. Inside the enclosure, there is enough room for the saw to move around and change directions. To slice up a piece of plywood into a kit of parts, you don't really need huge amounts of cutting power. By the nature of things, this is more slow, but intricate work. Hence, a milling machines with an end mill might make more sense, as it would share a jigsaw's ability to cut corners. The machine would also be able to drill holes with a different bit. The idea would be to do everything you needed to do to a piece of plywood in a single pass, under the control of a computer. The cutting head would be capable of moving the full width of the workpiece transversely, that is, four feet, but it would also be capable of moving six inches or so, longitudinally. Long longitudinal cuts would be broken down into slices of four or six inches, and the cutting head would periodically change cutting bits from a rack.

    What we are talking about is something like a cross between a traditional Numerically Controlled machine tool and a computer printer (inkjet). A cross between an alligator and an ostrich, if you like. As I previously stated, I feel that the SawStop people erred in taking the prior configuration of table saws as given, and trying to work within that framework. When you back off and approach the problem from first principles, you get a rather different solution.

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