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
    Bram Cohen, 19 Mar 2010 @ 1:29pm

    To be fair to Sawstop, they've probably done nothing wrong

    To be fair to Sawstop, there's no clear reason to think they've done anything wrong. It's quite likely that the main cost of adding the new safety technology isn't the patent licensing costs, but in the rather extensive enhancements it requires to the machine itself. A friend of mine got a Sawstop, not particularly because he cares about the safety feature, but because it's by far the best table saw on the market.

    You're right that there's the potential that Sawstop *could* do something unethical, if there are more lawsuits and their safety technology becomes de facto necessary, and they then charge exhorbitant rates for license to their patent, that might raise some serious ethical issues. For the meantime though, I'm inclined to view them as good inventors who make a good product which has saved many peoples's fingers so far and which they tried to license out on what I'm willing to assume were completely reasonable terms. The real bad guys here are the other table saw manufacturers, who had access to a finger-saving technology and chose to ignore it in the interest of preserving short-term profits, and are now rightfully getting the smackdown for it. This story would probably have played out the same way whether or not there was a patent on the Sawstop safety device.

    That said, a private company having a patent on a crucial safety technology raises some serious potential ethical problems, but there isn't particularly strong reason to think that those have happened yet in this case. At least it's clear that Sawstop are actual table saw manufacturers, and good ones at that, rather than patent trolls.

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