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Company Sued, Loses For Not Using Patented Tech 631

Posted by kdawson
from the giving-consumers-the-finger dept.
bdcrazy writes "A man was recently awarded $1.5M in a jury trial after his hand was injured by a Ryobi table saw. The saw did not include the patented 'Saw Stop' technology that the plaintiff argued would have prevented all the problems." 60 similar cases have now been filed nationwide. TechDirt makes the argument that this jury decision is completely crazy: "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." If the decision stands, not only will the price of table saws go way up, but other hungry patent-holders will probably get a gleam in their eye.
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Company Sued, Loses For Not Using Patented Tech

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  • Not again... (Score:5, Informative)

    by CajunArson (465943) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:14PM (#31543890) Journal

    Slashdot and the Law: Unsafe at any speed.

    It's been years since I was in Torts class, but this is a product liability suit... NOT a patent suit. The only reason the "patent" is being bandied about is because this guy's argument boils down to this: Riyobi knew (or should have known) that there was a safer way to make the saw. Riyobi presumably did not choose the safer way. Therefore, Riyobi should be liable for my injury.

    Note that this argument by itself is nowhere near sufficient to win a product liability lawsuit. For example, it's easy to say that you could make any car safer by preventing it from going over 5mph, but just throwing that fact out in court by itself will never win a product liability case. Usually there are lots of extra factors like industry standards and cost-benefit analyzes that are argued over by lots of expert witnesses. Could Riyobi have "reasonably" adopted the improved design? etc. etc.

    The ONLY reason that a patent has anything important to do with this case is that patents are, by definition, publicly available and it makes an easy argument to show that Riyobi knew or could have known about what was disclosed in the patent. Also, there is NO REQUIREMENT that Riyobi would HAVE to use the safety system described in the patent. Instead, the safety system is just an example of what is known, and Riyobi could argue that its own systems were just as good or even better. The patent was likely just one data point of MANY data points used to establish what a "reasonable" safety system would look like. One interesting point would be to see if Riyobi itself is the assignee of the patent....

    In a nutshell: Don't read too much into this case. Like most legal cases discussed on Slashdot, somebody saw a buzzword like "patent" and wanted to score points with the mouthbreathing site admins.

  • by The Angry Mick (632931) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:20PM (#31543990) Homepage

    Did anyone ever sue an auto manufacturer who did not include airbags? I don't think so.

    Actually, yes [thefreelibrary.com].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:21PM (#31544006)

    It is a patent issue because the flesh detection technology is patented and the patent holder wants a very high licensing fee, otherwise saw manufacturers would have adopted the technology years ago.

    Several saw manufacturers have been negotiating with the patent holder for years, but the last I time I read about it (3 years ago), the patent holder was asking the equivalent of half of the gross profit on every saw sold. Needless to say that is the equivalent of a lot of law suits.

    On the other hand, this definitely qualifies as frivolous law suit. Power saws are dangerous, and if you don't know how to use one safely, you shouldn't be playing with them.

  • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:22PM (#31544016) Homepage

    I haven't bought a saw recently, but I don't think Saw-Stop is standard. (In fact, the point of the linked article seems to be that it is not, but the creator thinks it should be.)

    If you bought a car without an airbag installed and they told you that that model didn't have an airbag, unless it's against the law not to have one, you're SOL. If you bought it and, as you said, they had simply failed to install it, then you you have a case because now we're talking about something that they claimed to have and didn't.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['ish' in gap]> on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:24PM (#31544058)

    These kinds of decisions do tend to have that effect, though. Any future table-saw company who does not include the technology will be in an even worse position than Ryobi, because not only did they fail to include available safety technology, but they willfully failed to do so even after another company was held liable for injuries resulting from the same omission.

  • by Posting=!Working (197779) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:28PM (#31544114)

    As the tip of the blade hooks into the loop of the chain mail glove and tries to pull it, and your hand inside it, through the slot in the table and being partially successful, you'll wish you'd just cut your finger off.

    Some tools are much safer without gloves. Drill Presses and vertical band saws are in this category.

  • by guyfawkes-11-5 (1583613) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:32PM (#31544168) Homepage

    These are one of the most dangerous tools you can use. Not because they're particularly dangerous themselves, but because people like to cut their thumbs off when they use them.

    A chainmail glove reduces the chance of this.

    I cant say that I have ever seen anyone use a chainmail glove with a tablesaw, hobbyist or professional. A average table saw would be able to cut right through chainmail. Ef. There are special blades you can use when cutting lumber with nails in it. It doesn't even flinch when cutting an 8d nail. So its back to basics:
    Pushsticks to keep your fingers away, featherboards to reduce kickback,common sense and RESPECT for the machine!

  • Re:Saw Stop is great (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dr. Evil (3501) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:33PM (#31544188)

    Nooo, it's $169 to replace the blade and brake every time it triggers.

    "...Stearns applied for grants to pay for two SawStop saws in 2008, which cost $7,400, about three times the price of other brands. "

  • Financially viable? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Radical Moderate (563286) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:39PM (#31544272)
    From TFA: "Osorio's legal team, ... pointed to SawStop's sales as evidence that the technology is not only mechanically feasible but financially viable"

    SawStop's cheapest saw is $1600. To get the saw working again after a stoppage costs $169 in parts. That alone is more than I paid for my table saw, brand new. These a**holes are basically trying to destroy woodworking as a hobby. Yes, saws are dangerous, that's why I'm always incredibly careful when I use one.

    This tech is great for schools or shops where saws are used all the time, but to insist that no saw be sold without this technology is nuts.
  • by ejdmoo (193585) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:48PM (#31544380)
    Ah, but it is a patent thing, because the guy who invented the saw is a former patent lawyer.

    Stephen Gass, an Oregon native, invented the SawStop's flesh-detecting saw brake in his barn. Gass left his career as a patent lawyer to try to license the device to tool manufacturers, who turned him away. Gass went into business, designing and selling his own saws, which have set a new standard for safety in the industry.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:48PM (#31544384)

    No, the jury didn't hold anything specific about saw blades or patented technologies. All the jury held was that the company was negligent in not including this safety feature. (That's doubtful, in my opinion, but maybe the jury is better informed than I am, having heard the testimony.) The only thing the law requires is that people (and companies) act with due care. The jury said they didn't.

    Furthermore, jury trials generally do not set precedent in the legal sense. No judge is going to say, "Well, a jury reached such and such a conclusion in the Ryobi case, so that's going to be the law now." Instead, each case has to be separately put before a jury (or they can be consolidated into a class action suit). An appeals court may strike down or uphold the verdict, thereby setting precedent, but the verdict itself won't do so.

    IANAL.

  • Re:Saw Stop is great (Score:4, Informative)

    by AMuse (121806) <slashdot-amuse@NOsPAM.foofus.com> on Friday March 19, 2010 @06:01PM (#31544574) Homepage

    One of the well documented problems is that if you cut wood that is "too wet" then the brake will activate, thinking that it's hit flesh.

    So really the article should say "Each time you cut wood that's too damp (which you have no way to determine beforehand) you pay $169 to replace the blade and brake". That puts into focus why some woodworkers who know how to be careful do not WANT the safety feature.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday March 19, 2010 @06:08PM (#31544666)

    Because it should be overturned. You do not put your damn fingers near the blade of a table-saw, nor do you stand at the end of the table. If you cannot grasp these simple concepts to not buy a fucking table-saw.

  • Re:Horrible summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zak3056 (69287) on Friday March 19, 2010 @06:08PM (#31544668) Journal

    . However, if SawStop was asking for some reasonable amount (and I'd consider anything under $50 per saw to be "reasonable"), then I'd surely consider casting my vote for the plaintiff if I were on the jury.

    A consumer grade table saw can go for as little as a couple of hundred bucks. You'd be marking a $500 saw up 10% just for the patent royalties, which would probably equal or exceed the manufacturer's profit on the saw... and for something like a sub-$100 Harbor Freight piece of junk, the markup would be absurd.

    Note, I went to the website and watched the videos. This appears to be an extremely clever invention, certainly deserving of patent protection, and the world should beat a path to their door for building a better mousetrap. But I disagree that licensing their patent should be compulsory.

  • by Mr2001 (90979) on Friday March 19, 2010 @06:25PM (#31544860) Homepage Journal

    If you RTFA, you would see that they're trying to license for 3% of the wholesale value of the saws. Hardly half.

    He said "half of the gross profit", not half the price of the saws.

    That might be true too...but hey, if you invented something, you'd want to make money off it too.

    Of course. But I wouldn't want to make money off it in this way, by effectively threatening to sue anyone who arranges saw parts in a certain way unless they pay me royalties. I prefer to get paid for doing work, rather than charging rent on work I did 20 years earlier.

  • Re:Horrible summary (Score:1, Informative)

    by GasparGMSwordsman (753396) on Friday March 19, 2010 @06:26PM (#31544874)
    I was a juror on a lawsuit a few years ago. The plaintiff's wife died and was suing the doctor. The argument was that a common device that most doctors use to prevent this exact cause of death, was not used by the doctor. The device was patented.

    1) The device is commonly known to prevent death.
    2) The doctor knowingly decided to save money by not purchasing the device. That this lead to the death was undisputed.

    By your logic the doctor should not be held liable for not using a generally accepted safety standard. At a certain point when a safety system because so universally acknowledged as basic, it becomes criminal to not include it. That is why we have seat belts. It is why we have air bags.

    NOTE: I am not arguing that this case was decided correctly. I don't know the facts of the case. But then again neither does anyone else here. (Please correct me if you have read through all of the court filings, listened to all the testimony, examined each and every piece of evidence, read the applicable laws and completed relevant research into presidents in other cases.)
  • Price comparison (Score:3, Informative)

    by Leuf (918654) on Friday March 19, 2010 @06:37PM (#31544994)
    The Ryobi saw he was using costs about $150. The only Sawstop saw available at the time cost over $3000. There is currently a cheaper one for a modest $1750.
  • Re:Not again... (Score:3, Informative)

    by kemapa (733992) * on Friday March 19, 2010 @06:43PM (#31545084) Journal

    It's also important to note that trial courts don't set precedent, appellate courts do that (and this case was at the trial court level). The other lawsuits that are popping up elsewhere aren't the result of any new precedent set by this case, they are the result of other lawyers being shown a winning argument. CajunArson is right about Slashdot and the law -- I see a couple posts at +5 alleging that there is now legal precedent requiring the use of patented technology -- supposedly by a court that cannot even set precedent.

    Furthermore, even if this case is reviewed at the appellate level and affirmed, it still will not set any legal precedent requiring companies to use patented technology. The precedent already was/is a question of reasonableness. As CajunArson mentioned, suggested use of a patented technology to improve safety is but one step down the road to establishing (or refuting) reasonableness in legal terms.

  • by publiclurker (952615) on Friday March 19, 2010 @06:59PM (#31545284)
    If I recall, the number one cause of injury on a table saw is caused by kickback and not amputation. This is where the blade catches the wood and throws it back at the operator. The sawstop does nothing to prevent this.
  • by virtualXTC (609488) on Friday March 19, 2010 @07:15PM (#31545416) Homepage
    Uhh, their motto is "Pro Feature affordable prices" how is this not claiming to be a professional tool? And for the prices they are charging you'd think they'd be at least better than similarly spec-ed Black and Decker model, but they NEVER are.

    I have a Ryobi table saw and it's perfectly fine for what it is. Would I use it to build a house? No. It's not meant for that. Is it a good-value table saw for cutting up the odd sheet of plywood or ripping the odd 2x6? Absolutely. It's a basic, easy-to-use light-duty table saw that I use 'now and again'. You need to buy products that align with the purpose for which they're intended, and Ryobi fits that niche nicely. They're not more, nor do they claim to be.

  • Re:Horrible summary (Score:2, Informative)

    by GasparGMSwordsman (753396) on Friday March 19, 2010 @07:39PM (#31545608)
    The issue is not what was paid, it is, "should a company that chooses to make a product that is knowingly more dangerous than it needs to be, be held liable for preventable accidents?" This is not even a patent issue, it is a liability issue.

    The answer to that issue is that any time a company knowingly chooses to disregard an accepted common place safety device or procedure, they are liable. Case law on this subject pre-dates the Republic (The United States of America for those who were confused).

    There are thousands of such cases. Many of them involve patents. As I have stated, I was a juror on one of them.

    If you strongly disagree, read up on liability law. It varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If there is not much of easily accessible material for your home area, I would recommend looking up the history of liability law in the State of California. There are tonnes and tonnes of documents and cases covering this very issue in detail. And again, this issue is old, you can throw a stone and find a dozen cases almost identical to this one. I even did a google search and found another one involving a different table saw.
  • by DinDaddy (1168147) on Friday March 19, 2010 @08:34PM (#31546106)

    You left out the part where, after being rebuffed by the manufacturers of tablesaws, he actually petitioned the government to force them to license his technology.

    With the big tool companies declining to participate, SawStop is seeking other ways to make sure its technology is adopted. In April 2003, the company filed a petition with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to make SawStop-like technology standard on all table saws.

    http://www.inc.com/magazine/20050701/disruptor-gass.html# [inc.com]

  • by JimBowen (885772) on Friday March 19, 2010 @09:41PM (#31546490)

    One thing that might put you off wanting this feature in all buzzsaws:

    If you read StopSaw's "how it works" section on their site, it'll tell you that the brake is a single-use cartridge that costs $69 a pop, and that you also need to replace the blade (presumably also a StopSaw proprietary part)
    That'd be all well and good, if the saw only ever stopped when you actually put your finger in it - $200 for a new blade and brake is obviously a small price to pay for saving your finger.
    But the site also goes on to explain that the brake is activated electrically, by the conductivity of the human body as opposed to wood.
    In order for the saw to stop if you are not touching some other part of the chassis, this will need to be a high-frequency noise detector (like when you touch an audio amplifier input), which are very susceptible to.. noise.

    It must be VERY profitable for StopSaw if they get $200 or so every time there is a bit of RF noise in a workshop!

  • by bleh-of-the-huns (17740) on Friday March 19, 2010 @11:49PM (#31547188)

    Sawstop mechanisms have been known to trigger when using slightly damp or wet woods, it can get expensive..

  • The brake is a huge aluminum block that clamps and slips onto/into the blade path. Blade damage is irreversible. I would never use a sudden-stop saw blade ever again after being triggered, anyways. Too much worry about metal fatigue or mechanical stress.

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