SawStop product safety liability case.

Now may be a good time to revisit the subject of this 2006 thread.

The manufacturer of Ryobi power saws has been ordered to pay Carlos Osorio $1.5 million, apparently on the basis of their failure to incorporate this technology into the saw that Mr. Osorio purchased from them and subsequently injured himself with.

At a glance, this ruling seems absurd – it seems to me that Mr. Osorio had the opportunity to pay the 300% premium associated with a tool that incorporates this technology, and opted instead for a saw that more closely resembles the industry standard. Based on SawStop’s market share, it seems to me that this is the choice that most consumers would make. (I paid attention in high school shop class, and would most likley also take the calculated risk of using the application of common sense over paying so much more for a saw equipped with this feature.) How is Ryobi more culpabile for passing on this costly new technology that the plaintiff is?

Is this decision likely to stand? The ramifications seem out of line to me. Or are there considerations that make this decision seem more reasonable?

I would certainly never argue against mandatory safety devices where the benefits are proportionate to the costs: Seatbelts seem like an reasonable requirement for an automobile, however I can admit that I might be content to check my speed and do my best to be cautious, of the inclusion of them was going to put the average price point for a new car in the neighbourhood of $100,000.

I thought SawStop was patented technology. Even if a compulsory license was mandatory, SawStop still can still set the price of that license. Make it $1 billion per table saw or something.

Seems like Ryobi had incompentent lawyers if they lost this case.

Hell, every victim of a carjacking or drive by shooting could sue all the car companies because they don’t include the same 4 inch thick bulletproof doors that the President of USA’s limousine has.

It was invented by a patent lawyer, so I imagine the technology is well-protected.

I don’t find the text of the decision anywhere; I have no idea if Ryobi was found negligent for not incorporating licensed technology into their designs, or for not engineering an equivalent-but-non-infringing technology. Either way, I suspect that it’s bananas.

Now is the time to buy stock in SawStop, if you can. The writing has been on the wall for some time. Table saw injuries are extremely expensive and now, most of them are entirely preventable. That a patent is involved doesn’t change the liability.

SawStop saws are extremely good tools, and out of range for most hobbyists, but they have been working on lower cost versions. For a professional shop, the higher cost is well worth the higher price.

Soft start is becoming ubiquitous; it would be great to see this become so too.

Not true - if a court sets a mandatory license, it can (maybe always does) set the rate of that license.

Can you explain how this works?

It seems strange that a company would pay expensive attorneys to apply for a patent, and then continued yearly maintenance fees for patent “protection”, only to have a court (at their discretion) give away that patent protection for 50 cents. Something doesn’t add up.

There are compulsory licenses in music copyrights with the rates already specified. You’re saying it works this way with technology patents? Is every company’s patent portfolio (pharmaceutical, software, etc) at risk from a rogue court’s decision?

Well yes. Then you would appeal the verdict. A “rogue court” can also void your patent, or do lots of other unpleasant things to you.

In cases of patent infringement, the court may order a compulsory license. This is often in the public interest, as otherwise there may become a shortage of the patented product.

Patents occupy an odd position - they are admittedly a restriction on competition, and courts are wary of letting them be used in ways to harm the consuming public. A case I worked on a while ago (up for retrial soon) involved an allegation of patent infringement going back for 3 years. If the court finds the patents infringed, there will be damages for the time of infringement, and presumably an infringe-no-more order (not relevant actually here). I spent a lot of time working on briefing the concept of a reasonable royalty that would be used to calculate damages.

If you take a medical situation, where a company with no manufacturing capacity has a patent on something that makes up part of a device needed for heart bypass surgery. If the patent is held to be infringed, there could be an injunction against all manufacturers of that product - that is bad for the consumer, as there are no more heart bypass operations. The court instead requires the patent owner to license it to the manufacturers. Allowing the patentee to set any price they want, however, still has the problem that the end use customer gets shafted. Instead the court will set a reasonable rate, looking at similar situations, and impose that. This can be too high or too low, but is appealable. the parties will also have expert witnesses etc. Judges are unlikely to set a crazy low or crazy high license because they hate being overturned.

I think the last sentence addresses my confusion about “something doesn’t add up”, thanks.

Will the award stand? No. He’ll lose on appeal. If it was his own tool and he wanted that protection he should have paid for it.

In general you’re not allowed to market a dangerous device period. Table saws are far and away the most dangerous saw on the market. Here’s an excerpt from a report from the Consumer Products Safety Comission from 2001.

This means table saws are ~5 times as dangerous as the next most dangerous type of saw. Products that cause ~38,000 injuries a year are subject to a ton of regulation in general, especially since these aren’t ubiquitous products like automobiles. The general trends were that these are professionals who owned the saws, and worked with them frequently. They hadn’t modified them to soup them up Tim Allen style. They weren’t poorly maintained with dull blades, or ancient machines(~70% were less than ten years old).

For years the manufacturers have said these are all inherent risks for the devices. The few safety features, like riving knives, which have been developed for table saws tended to be optional instead of standard.

Then Sawstop came along and proved that table saws, which I agree do have an inherent degree of risk associated with their use, can be MUCH safer than they currently are with the prevalent designs.

It’s like the first car with airbags or seat belts. Those were also patented and other manufacturers didn’t want to license the patents. They were forced to find ways to develop seat belts or not be allowed to sell their cars. Now some people can argue that a consumer has a right to buy a car without seat belts if they want, and accept the risk personally, but they lost that fight a long time ago. Hell, you can’t even choose not to use your seat belts these days.

The cabinet saw industry is on its way to losing this fight too. It has been demonstrated that safety is not mutually exclusive with table saw use. There’s no way to put that genie back in the bottle.


No it doesn’t. It means there are around 5 times as many accidents involving table saws as there are with the type of saw that causes the second highest amount of injuries. Until you know (a) how many saws of each type are in use; and (b) the severity of the injuries, you cannot make that comment.

I’m willing to bet that many more people are bitten by dogs than by rabid tigers in the US. I wouldn’t extrapolate from those figures that dogs are more dangerous than rabid tigers.

Technically we’d also need to know the number of man hours each type of saw was used to determine relative safety. A table saw gets a lot of use in some shops and very little in others, and miter saws have similar variables. I can pretty much guarantee there are more miter saws out there than there are cabinet saws, if for no other reason than miter saws are an order of magnitude less expensive.

The overall point, that table/cabinet saws are standouts among all types of workshop power saws for rates of injury, is well established I think.


I agree. I was just feeling pedantic.

There is nothing inherently unsafe about a table saw if used correctly. Adding $2000 to the price of every tool of similar cutting ability should be the choice of the consumer. Otherwise hand tools such as circular saws and chain saws would be prohibitively expensive.

I met the guy who invented this and saw it in action. They do license the technology, that was their business model going in. No one would build a saw with it so they went ahead and did it themselves. I think the license is 3% of the wholesale cost of the saw that it is installed in. Assuming a 50% margin at retail, that would increase price by 6% to the consumer. There may be volume discounts as well.

I wonder if the reticence of manufacturers is based on the idea that installing a safety feature like that would imply that they knew they knew they had a dangerous product. That could be used against them in a law suit.

In the UK, American-style table saws are not legal. Their blades are entirely shielded. My English cousin was horrified to see me cut a dado on my table saw.

There are many things unsafe about table saws. The blade is exposed and the guards are not well designed. When ripping, they trap wood in between the blade and fence and are prone to kickback. Using them to make dadoes requires the removal of the guards. Moving-table designs are safer, though they are also more expensive. Certainly a well trained, alert, and careful operator can use table saws for years without injury, but I think they are inherently dangerous.

That doesn’t look right. The “license” is probably just the permission to utilize the intellectual property. That 3% wouldn’t include the extra manufacturing materials (electronics, sensors, braking system, etc). I’m guessing the additional parts and tooling would add more than 10% to the cost. Whatever it is, it’s significant enough that many consumers wouldn’t pay extra if it was optional. (As a matter of fact, there have been endless debate threads in woodworking forums that the SawStop actually makes the table saw more dangerous and unsafe – it gives a false sense of security leading to more accidents. That’s how some of the hardcore woodworkers feel about it. To force them to pay extra for the SawStop would be an insult.)

Blackberry (smartphones) recently paid $600+ million to NTP to settle a patent license. I’m pretty sure that NTP did not provide any chips, LCD screens, or batteries in exchange for that $600 million. Pure intellectual property.

Yes, the 3% is just for licensing the IP. Not sure if not insulting someone is a good reason to not add safety features. At least they’ll be able to give the govt the finger if they still have all of them.

You have to look at it from their point of view.

Let’s say the Sawstop safety mechanism adds +$500 to the cost of a table saw. Ok, sounds good. The device helps saves fingers. However, some woodworkers might rather spend that $500 a dust filtration system to provide protection for their lungs. Or maybe they’d rather buy a safety product unrelated to woodworking: perhaps a better helmet for their son who just got a new motorcycle.

So now we have two assumptions: 1) it will cost $500 to add SawStop 2) the consumer will use it to buy safety equipment to save their child from a horrible death. People always whine about safety equipment. I remember all the people whining that seat belts would trap them in their car if they were submerged. Go forward a few years and it seems that seat belts save thousands of lives without a rash of drownings.

I’m not sure how much SawStop will add to the cost of table saws. My guess is it’s in between the figures quoted by the inventors and by the manufacturers.

I have a table saw and I have used it safely for years. But it would be really easy to saw off my fingers one night when I have to make “one last cut” before going to bed. I don’t think we should dismiss the safety technology out of hand.