SawStop Tries to Save Face with Patent Promise

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SawStop released a statement today, which – if I understand it correctly – implies they’ll stop suing companies that build table saws with flesh detection technology, at least if or once the government mandates such features.

The US CPSC has been rapidly moving towards requiring table saws to include active injury mitigation technology.

There are a lot of obstacles to this, with a major one being a broad SawStop patent that covers flesh detection. The company has successfully litigated to protect it.

Today, in response to proposed rulemaking regarding table saw safety by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), SawStop committed to dedicate U.S. Patent 9,724,840 to the public upon the rule’s effective date.

The CPSC proposed rulemaking, which stemmed from a petition by SawStop’s founder, has not yet been finalized.

The situation is messy.

SawStop’s founder claimed in 2017, in an interview with NPR, that the company was “about to come out with a $400 saw with his injury prevention system.”

That never happened.

In a video interview published earlier this year, Gass said about SawStop safety tech: “It’s like a touch lamp, and a spring, and a fuse wire, it’s all very simple pieces that come together to make it function.”

Despite that, SawStop never launched a $400 table saw.

SawStop launched a compact table saw in late 2022, priced at $899 plus freight. It’s larger, heavier, and more expensive than competitors’ portable table saws.

If a flesh detection table saw at the $400 price point were possible, wouldn’t SawStop have followed through with it?

I anticipate there being huge ramifications to the sub-$1000 table saw market.

So yeah, if the CPSC proposed rulemaking goes into effect, things are going to get messy.

Bosch said they’ll need 6 years to redevelop the Reaxx table saw.

Harbor Freight said that they and their suppliers don’t know how to develop flesh detection technology.

Consumers will likely have to pay more – lots more.

It might not even be possible for brands to incorporate flesh detection and blade brake tech into all classes of modern table saws.

Competing tool companies have argued that fair licensing terms would be necessary, otherwise SawStop could potentially exploit the situation to extreme profits.

I believed SawStop might release the patent sometime down the road, but the timing surprised me.

When everyone has to spend more on a table saw, it’ll be blamed on SawStop. Companies would have to recoup R&D costs, there will be higher component costs, and there will likely be more injury lawsuits.

It has been argued in some injury lawsuits – with some calling SawStop’s founder as an expert witness – that table saws without active injury mitigation tech have defective designs. There could be more of that, and the money to fight and settle those suits will have to come from somewhere.

A tool user might look at future table saw prices and then go online to ask why. Those in-the-know will answer – “SawStop petitioned for this.”

On top of all that contributing to higher hardware costs, especially if mandated safety tech requires table saws to grow in size, competing companies would all have to pay licensing fees to SawStop?

SawStop didn’t really have a choice but to pledge to dedicate the key patent to the public.

Sure, they’d miss out on a few years of licensing fees, but what about after the patent expires?

On the point of licensing fees, power tool brands have argued that licensing fees should be based on component costs, and not the entire value of competing table saws built with flesh detection tech. That might not come out to a lot of money.

Festool, SawStop’s sibling company, utilizes the company’s flesh detection and blade brake technology on their European market table saw. They recently launched a cordless table saw that does not flesh detection or blade brake tech.

What about other power tool brands’ cordless table saws? Will they be removed from the market if brands can’t easily or affordably incorporate flesh detection tech?

The CPSC proposed rulemaking makes sense. SawStop’s insistences over the years make sense. Other tool companies’ opposition makes sense.

No party comes out on top here, not SawStop, not competing power tool brands, and definitely not tool users and consumers.

To me, SawStop pledging to release the patent if CPSC mandates flesh detection safety tech makes sense.

However, there’s this part:

Even so, we will not allow this patent to be an obstacle to a safer future. To that end, SawStop is prepared to dedicate this ‘840 patent to the public upon the effective date of a rule requiring active injury mitigation technology on all table saws.

Why don’t they release the patent now?

That’s what makes this more of a face-saving strategy, rather than something being done for consumer benefits.

It’s the right move for SawStop, but I’m coming around to the idea that if SawStop truly cared about tool users, they’d do more.

If they want to be the good guy, rather than trying to look like the good guy, they should release the key flesh detection patent before the government safety agency requires it.

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