SawStop and Bosch continue to litigate over Bosch’s proposed 2016 release of Reaxx table saws, but SawStop received a favorable ruling from the U.S. International Trade Commission last month.
In 2015 SawStop filed a lawsuit against Bosch for patent infringement as Bosch’s Reaxx table saws utilize similar flesh-detecting injury mitigation technology that SawStop brought to the market in 2004. SawStop technology allows the table saw to detect when flesh touches the saw blade and triggers an automatic braking system which stops the blade within five milliseconds. While the user may receive a serious cut on his/her finger, the technology prevents the kind of full amputation which an estimated 4,000 Americans will suffer this year while using this kind of tool.
With this patent litigation SawStop is seeking an order to prevent Bosch’s Reaxx table saws from reaching U.S. Shores. According to a 2015 SawStop press release, “after years of denying the need for active injury mitigation technology on table saws via their industry trade group (Power Tool Institute, Inc.), Bosch has announced that it intends to release a table saw that incorporates numerous inventions developed and patented by SawStop. As part of the lawsuit, SawStop is asking the ITC to exclude Bosch’s infringing table saws from entry into the United States, and to order Bosch to stop advertising and selling infringing products in the United States.” Bosch maintains that the Reaxx technology patents are not conflicting with SawStop. Currently SawStop is the only producer of such technology applied to table saws in the United States.
The Administrative Law Judge made the favorable pre-trial ruling on the meaning of key phrases used in SawStop’s patent at the conclusion of the parties’ Markman Hearings. Bosch and SawStop disagreed as to the construction of terms like “detection system,” “reaction system,” and “cartridge.” Bosch argued that the “claim terms mean what they say in lay English, as set forth in [SawStop's] proposed constructions,” meaning that the terms should be narrowly construed to their plain English meanings on the paper. The court agreed with SawStop, finding no justifiable reason to narrow the claim terms, and on all ten disputed term constructions applying the general “plain and ordinary meaning” standard.
While it may seem insignificant, in the world of patents the words used are incredibly important. “It is a ‘bedrock principle’ of patent law that ‘the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude;’” in effect, the terms used in a patent are the terms by which the patent is defined, and therefore the terms by which the owner can protect it. If the terms on a competitor’s patent too closely match the words of your previous patent then you have a better argument that your competitor’s patent infringes on your own.
This may seem like a simple problem to avoid, but during the patent writing process several parties will influence what words end up on the final patent application, including the inventor, technical writers, patent attorneys, and even the patent examiner. Their goal is to write sufficiently specific enough to satisfy the terms of the Patent Act, but still provide enough broad language to cover any future changes that might occur. Sometimes this can lead to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem with unintended legal consequences. Future inventors should be aware of such issues as it is not uncommon to find that the final patent is worded significantly different from the inventor’s initial description.
While a victory at a Markman Hearing is noteworthy, it is only one step in a complicated process. Patent litigation starts well before this hearing, with attorneys working to research the opposing patents and patent law, drafting and submitting complaints and answers, and conducting extensive discovery (the process by which the parties exchange information related to the facts of the case). The parties will come together and determine what issues exist related to claim construction, specifically what constructions they agree on, and which ones will need to be settled by the Court at the Markman Hearing. A win here means SawStop can put the pressure on Bosch, but it doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome, pending any appeals, a slog of pre-trial motions, and if necessary mediation, arbitration, settlement, or trial.
If SawStop is successful in their overall claim, Bosch and other manufacturers will have to re-think working with SawStop in order to produce safer table saws. In a recent article we discussed how major litigation wins by injured workers may indicate that companies who do not implement flesh-detecting injury mitigation technology put themselves at increased risk of liability. Manufacturers would be stuck between having to cautiously implement their own technology, and having to purchase SawStop’s in order to keep their market shares, an expensive outlook for the industry.
 Certain Table Saws Incorporating Active Injury Mitigation Technology and Components Thereof., 2015 WL 8492236 (U.S.Intern.Trade Com'n)
 Certain Table Saws Incorporating Active Injury Mitigation Technology and Components Thereof., 2015 WL 8492233 (U.S.Intern.Trade Com'n)
 Certain Table Saws Incorporating Active Injury Mitigation Technology and Components Thereof (Inv. No. 337-TA-965). Order No. 7. February 9, 2016. Accessed from: http://www.itcblog.com/images/order7in965.pdf
 Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005)
Neil L. Wilcove is a partner at Freeman, Mathis & Gary, LLP and Chair of the Construction Law and Commercial Litigation practice groups in which he represents contractors, subcontractors, owners, architects, engineers, and sureties. He handles payment disputes, delay claims, and construction and design defect cases. Mr. Wilcove also assists his clients in negotiating and drafting construction contracts.
Daniel A. Nicholson is an associate attorney at Freeman, Mathis & Gary, LLP (Accepted to the New York Bar, Pending Acceptance to the Georgia Bar) practicing Construction Law in Atlanta, GA.