is energetic and intense, a trimly built man of 49 whose home near Portland, Ore, is a manageable drive from some of his
favorite whitewater kayaking runs.
grew up on a horse farm in Eastern Oregon, and was taught woodworking by his
He earned a doctorate in physics and a law degree, then joined a patent law firm in Portland, but retained his interest in building things.
Stephen Gass, president of SawStop, LLC, at company headquarters near Portland, Ore.
created an elaborate workshop behind his
For some reason, while out there on a fall day in 1999 he
was struck by a question: Would it be possible to stop a saw blade quicklyÂ enough to keep it from slicing off your fingers?
After a series of calculations and with parts you could buy at Radio Shack, he
showed it could be done.
Hoping to stir grass-roots interest, Gass
and the Davids made their first trip to the woodworkers fair in August, 2000.
said a small typo led him to return the contract to Ryobiâ€™s general counsel, who Gass
said told him he
would immediately fix the mistake and mail the contract back.
Days turned into weeks, then months.
got repeated assurances that Ryobi
wanted to proceed, but the contract never came back.
Years later, in the trial of a lawsuit against Ryobi
, a company lawyer explained it this way: â€œRyobi decided that it did not want to go forward with this project,â€ he
was going through a corporate acquisition, the SawStop deal took â€œa back seatâ€, and â€œeventually Ryobi lost interest.â€
Robert Bugos, the former general counsel Gass said had strung him along, put it another way in a deposition. â€œThere was negotiation back and forth,â€ Bugos said. â€œOur position was always that SawStop was asking too much.â€
recalled being told by Peter Domeny, then chairman of the committee and Boschâ€™s director of product safety, that SawStop
had kept him awake nights wondering how the industry could defend itself in court.
came to realize the threat his
invention posed. â€œWhat the industry saw as a problem was not the amputations and injuries occurring on their product,â€ he
said, â€œbut the advent of a technology that could prevent those injuries.
That was the problem we created.â€
Early on, Gass
and two of the Davids had quit the law firm to give full time to SawStop
Having failed to license the technology, they faced a stark choice: Either go back to patent law and let the invention die, or find the capital to make their own saws.
They chose the latter, Gass
said, and raised $3 million from about 30 investors.
Gass told Fairwarning the idea came from Caroleene Paul, the CPSC engineer.
Given the commissionâ€™s limited resources, Gass
said Paul told him, the agency would be more likely to investigate the issue if petitioned to do so. (A commission spokesman confirmed this account.)
testified about his
efforts to license SawStop
testified that Stollings would have escaped serious injury if the saw had skin-sensing technology.
This time, however, Ryobiâ€™s lawyers shifted the focus from the maiming of a young man to a purported conspiracy between plaintiffsâ€™ attorneys and Gassâ€"designed to bleed the industry by, in the case of the lawyers, filing lawsuits; and in the case of Gass
, forcing manufacturers to adopt SawStop
â€œThere can be little question that Mr. Gass
and the SawStop company primarily are motivated by their own monetary gain,â€ the institute declared, â€œrather than purely to improve public safety.â€
could make plenty of money if a table saw standard were adopted, but is profitablejust selling its saws, according to Gass
â€œI feel like Iâ€™m doing a good thing,â€ he
said, adding that he
would not take â€œa lot of moral credit.Â Iâ€™m doing what I also think is in my financial interest.â€