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
    K.E.Mort (profile), 22 Mar 2010 @ 8:59am

    Re: Re: Really a watershed case, or...?


    It really has nothing to do with disliking inventors or patents. That's your red herring.

    The issue is having the patents abused. Thus is the case here. Nothing about patent law is intended to force the marketplace to implement your idea. You are not, by default, guaranteed to actually make money off of that patented idea. If the idea is so great, then it's up to you to sell it and get the market to agree it's great. Being forced into it isn't "public acceptance" or acknowledgment.

    In this case, there is no previously issued regulation which compels a table saw maker to include this SawStop technology. None whatsoever. I believe there might be some regulation regarding cutting guards for example, which all makers include to some degree.

    Whether Delta/Porter Cable or Jet or whomever else would decide to partner with SawStop to implement their patented technology is the choice of that company. Certainly they would have a unique marketing message to make there if they were, and if the marketplace honestly feels there is value in SawStop's technology.

    However, a jury ruling which essentially (as was already mentioned) creates guaranteed revenue for SawStop by either: a) rendering all other vendors open for lawsuit, or b) by creating a de facto requirement for licensing is completely and utterly in violation of the spirit and purpose of patent law.

    There is no defense for this action, and Ryobi should certainly appeal. As a 30 year user of table saws of various brands. SawStop technology's existence has been for only a scant few of those years. Personal responsibility should be the order of the day here, full stop. No woodworker, professional or hobbyist with any respect for the industry would file such a suit. Pathetic attempts at a money grab aren't part of properly implemented patent law.

    If there is to follow some sort of actual regulation, then SawStop's patent must be invalidated, or licensing must be at a fair price. If SawStop is going to win over business from the likes of Delta/PC or Jet, or any other major maker, it should be on market acceptance of their technology as superior, not a jury de facto mandate they pay extortionate prices to license a patent or get sued.

    One also should understand that the saw this fellow was using is most likely one of the "cheap" homeowner variety you can purchase for just a few hundred bucks at a local home center. This isn't even a "contractor" grade saw that runs $500 or so, and it certainly isn't a UniSaw type unit that can retail for several thousand dollars. Even SawStop's own units cost several grand.

    I certainly understand your passion for inventors and protection by patents however, where I think you fall short is in not understanding when and how they are abused. You seem to be of the opinion that it never happens, or that "any action necessary" is OK. As in anything balance is necessary.

    Certainly you cannot believe the type of activity we're seeing in this case is beneficial to patent holders or inventors?

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