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
    woodworker, 19 Mar 2010 @ 1:00pm

    Real woodworker speaks up

    Okay, now for someone who actually works in this business and has knowledge of this.

    The "hunk of wood" mentioned is called a PUSH STICK. You can make your own, and the manual for Ryobi's table saw comes with plans for one. You can also buy several fancy ones (the Grripper is good choice if you insist on running without the blade guard). Blade guards exist to keep your hand away from the blade, and WHEN YOU LEAVE THEM ON, work great.

    I remember reading about a blind Canadian woodworker who had all of his fingers and thumbs. He did this BY NEVER PUTTING HIS HAND PAST THE FRONT OF THE SAW. This is a simple rule that anyone can follow, and use a push stick to keep your hand at least 6 inches away.

    The problem is that most table saws have a crappy blade guard, so when you need to make either a non-through cut, or a very narrow cut, you tend to leave the blade guard off. This can be solved by using an after-market guard that can be quick-on-off-back-on, such as the Shark Guard. The new Unisaw is supposed to have a better guard, but that's a $3500 tool.

    The operator of the table saw in question violated a LOT of basic safety procedures, and got hurt as the result. SawStop tried like hell to ram their tech down the throats of everyone years ago, pissing everyone off, but apparently finally listened to a lot of people on various WW boards to simply make their own saw. They did, and their saws are *very* good, and compete very well with the same price-point saws. However, if they are insisting of support stuff like this in order to MAKE people buy their tech, they are going to find themselves wallet-voted out of existence very fast.

    The jury ruling was made by people who had zero clue what was going on, and voted based on emotion. I fully expect that this will be overturned on appeal.

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