U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley this week found home improvement giant Home Depot liable to small inventor Michael Powell for $25 million dollars in damages. The judge also awarded $3 million dollars in punitive damages, $2.8 million dollars in attorneys fees, and $1 million dollars in interest annually on the judgement.
Sadly for Home Depot, Powell offered to sell each invention for a lowly $2000 which would have cost a total of $4 million dollars. Instead, Home Depot is now liable for a lot more in damages because of Powell’s claim against them. According to the Palm Beach Post, an executive for the company upon hearing about the possibility of Powell’s claim against Home Depot was alleged to have stated, “(expletive) Michael Powell. Let him sue us.”
What was the invention in question you might ask. Powell invented a novel method to prevent injuries when cutting wood using a radial/panel saw. Powell was awarded Patent 7,044,039 by the U.S. Patent Office in 2006, a Radial arm saw safety top. This invention would be valuable to companies because of the number of work related injuries caused by cutting wood for customers. Home Depot had previously been paying out at least a million dollars in claims annually in saw related work injuries. After installing the guards, the annual payout claims for Home Depot dropped to approximately $7000 a year.
Why didn’t Home Depot decide to pay up at first? Powell was after all, a Home Depot contractor for several years and developed a way to prevent further workplace injuries after observing the inherent problems with the system used by Home Depot. Powell even allowed Home Depot to test eight guards at its stores. Judge Hurley found then that Home Depot duplicated the saw guards and installed them at Home Depots around the country.
Home Depot argues that they respect the intellectual property rights of others and did not infringe the rights of anyone. It is expected that Home Depot will appeal the ruling. Judge Hurley seemingly found otherwise given the damages and unflattering words during the ruling.
The takeaway is that small inventors can prevail in the event of infringement, and that patent protection is key to securing your rights as an inventor. Even a guard to prevent injuries on a radial/panel saw can be protected. Although big companies often appear to have more power, if you protect yourself in advance it is a lot easier to ensure that your rights are upheld in the event of a dispute. If you have an idea that needs protection, then contact our law firm today!