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Table Saws Might Still Require SawStop-Like Safety Tech

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The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) still has not issued a final ruling that could hugely affect the portable table saw market.

Basically, they have been working to determine whether every table saw must feature SawStop-like safety tech – active injury mitigation involving flesh detection and blade brake tech.

While the US CPSC has not yet issued a final rule on the matter, they also haven’t abandoned it; the rulemaking has been in the “final rule stage” for the past 4 years.

The CPSC has provided few updates over the past few years, with the most recent one stating that their staff intends to submit a final rule briefing package to the Commission by the end of September 2023.

What most people don’t realize is that the potential for table saws to require SawStop-like safety tech never went away.

20 years ago (2003), SawStop’s founders, including Steve Gass, petitioned the US CPSC, requesting that the agency “issue performance standards for a system to reduce or prevent injuries from contact with the blade of a table saw”.

The issue was open for public input two notable times since then, around 2011 and again in 2017.

At the end of all of that, there was a notice of proposed rulemaking that would “establish a performance standard requiring table saws to limit the depth of cut to 3.5mm when a test probe, acting as a surrogate for a human body/finger, contacts the table saw’s spinning blade.”

In 2019, it was put up to a vote as to whether the CPSC would follow staff recommendations to:

conduct concurrently, a follow-up NEISS special study and table saw exposure survey, to collect additional information on whether the voluntary standard effectively reduces blade-contact injuries on table saws.

The CPSC voted against this, and to instead:

Direct staff to prepare a Final Rule on a Safety Standard Addressing Blade-Contact Injuries on Table Saws

I believe that the rulemaking has simply been on hold because of significant concerns as to whether SawStop and their new parent company will be fair in licensing patented active injury mitigation tech to other tool companies.

Tooltechnic Systems, Festool’s parent company, acquired SawStop in 2017.

In a US CPSC 2019 report that preceded the vote:

TTS has stated that it is open to the possibility of licensing the AIM technology should the Commission issue a mandatory rule requiring AIM technology on all table saws sold in the U.S.9

However, in a subsequent communication with Fabian Klopfer, CEO of TTS, on June 1, 2019, TTS indicated that “given the breadth of intellectual property that has been developed by SawStop, it is no longer a simple matter to say what such a license would or should include and what structure it would be.”

And, with emphasis my own:

The uncertainty surrounding the status of SawStop’s (TTS) patents, the lack of information on parties’ willingness to enter into licensing arrangements, or on the acceptable terms under which parties would enter into such agreements largely remain unchanged since the NPR. As discussed above, the existence of the patents would affect manufacturers’ ability and costs to meet the proposed table saw standard.

In 2017, US courts ruled in favor of SawStop in their infringement suit against Bosch, resulting in the Bosch Reaxx being barred from the market. The patents that Bosch was found to be in violation of have since expired.

Additional SawStop patents have recently expired, with more expiring soon.

SawStop’s patent on a “replaceable brake mechanism for power equipment” (US7610836B2) looks to expire next month (October 2023), and “logic control for fast-acting safety system” (US7600455B2) expires in mid-2024.

Some of SawStop’s major patents started expiring a few years ago, such as “table saw with improved safety system” (US7350444B2), which expired in late 2021.

I have been checking documents published by the US Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for the past few years. Every year, there would be no update, only a note saying that “staff is working on a final rule briefing package,” with a placeholder ETA of September for that year.

Things changed with the most recent updates. 4 years after the CPSC directed its staff to prepare a final rule, it now says:

Staff intends to submit a final rule briefing package to the Commission in fiscal year 2023.

(The US government fiscal year 2023 ends on 9/30/23.)

I have been following up on the US CPSC proposed rulemaking activities for years. They haven’t decided against mandating SawStop-style safety tech – I believe they’ve just been deferring the decision or implementation until a time when it wouldn’t require power tool companies to pay potentially exorbitant licensing fees to SawStop.

Once the staff sends a final rule briefing to the Commission, it might still take longer for a final rule to be decided upon and published.

There’s also the possibility that the fiscal year 2023 (9/30/23) ETA is missed and simply replaced with “fiscal year 2024” with the next update. They’ve done that before.

Still, it seemed important to remind everyone that the rulemaking has not yet been defeated yet.

Up until around 2017, the rulemaking was in the “proposed rule stage.” It went to “long-term actions” in 2018. Since 2019, it’s been in the “final rule stage.”

In my opinion, once enough SawStop patents expire, to where competing brands can launch table saws with their own safety tech without having to pay license fees, that’s when we’ll see the CPSC issue a final ruling.

Related Public Documents:

Index for Rule 3041-AC31 (Actions, Dates, Supporting Documents)

Semiannual Regulatory Agenda 7/27/23 (Final Rule Stage Announcement on Regulatory Options for Table Saws [3041–AC31])

NEISS Table Saw Special Study Briefing Package 2017 (PDF)

Ballot Vote Sheet: Table Saw Update 2019 (PDF)

Ballot Results – Table Saw Update 2019 (PDF)