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
    Hugh Mann (profile), 21 Mar 2010 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re: Not quite as nefarious as you suggest...

    Whether juries are elected or not is irrelevant. The point is, they are (for the most part - not perfectly, of course) randomly selected from the population at large, and there is an effort to ensure that they don't have gross biases that will unfairly influence the outcome of the case.

    A "workaround" that loses in an infringement suit is, QED, not a workaround.

    I'm quite willing to bet that there is not a single governmetn document that says, "saw manufacturers are hereby reuqired to license the [insert name here] technology and incorporate it into all future table saws." Rather, a jury has basically said that there is at least one known way to deal with a known safety issue, and it's not reasonable to just ignore the safety issue when there is at least one know way to address it. No saw manufacturer is REQUIRED to incorporate the safety technology. They could charge every saw customer an extra ten bucks (or whatever) to create a fund out of which to pay judgments. That is also a perfectly legal way to deal with this. No licenss required.

    Of course, we can all shift the argument to whether this particular safety issue really IS a safety issue that we need to be worried about. However, that's not what has been proposed. For purposes of this discussion, I have been operating under the assumption that we are not really questioning wheether the safety issue really is a problem or whether the technology in question is really an answer to it. I have perceived that the queston here is simply whether a jury verdict in a product liability case which has the very practical impact of steering manufacturers to a particular patented technology (and, currently, the only known way to address the issue raised by the jury) is fairly construed as a "government requirement" that all manufacturers take out a license for said patented technology.

    Respectfully, I suggest that the answer is "no". Yes, there are some very practical issues that will absolutely steer some to take out a licesne, but there are also other factors which make it clear that taking the license is not the only way to respond.

    HM

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