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Alexander Milburn Co. v. Davis-Bournonville Co. - 270 U.S. 390, 46 S. Ct. 324 (1926)

Rule:

Patent law authorizes a person who has invented an improvement, not known or used by others in the United States before his invention, to obtain a patent for it.

Facts:

Plaintiff Davis-Bournonville Co. has been issued a patent for an improvement in welding and cutting apparatus alleged to have been the invention of a certain Whitford. The application for patent was filed in March 1911 and issued in June 1912. Thereafter, plaintiff sued Alexander Milburn Co. (“Alexander”) for patent infringement. In its defense, Alexander claimed that Whitford was not the first person to have invented the improvement claimed on the Whitford patent. According to Alexander, a certain Clifford previously invented the said improvement and applied for a patent prior to plaintiff’s application. Due to the delays which originated in the patent office, Clifford received the patent only after plaintiff obtained theirs. The district court and the appellate court ruled that Clifford was not a prior inventor, and as such, the Whitford patent was valid.

Issue:

Was the Whitford patent valid, notwithstanding the allegations that he was not the first inventor of the improvement claimed on the patent?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States reviewed the record, which indicated that the delays originated in the patent office and concluded that such delays should not have deprived respondent of its patent. The patent description showed that Whitford was not the first inventor, and that Clifford had done all that he could do to make his description public because it had taken steps that would make it public as soon as the patent office did its work. Thus, the Court reversed the decree that held that Clifford was not a prior inventor after stating that there no reason in the words or policy of the law for allowing Whitford to profit by the delay and make himself out to be the first inventor when he was not so in fact, when Clifford had shown knowledge inconsistent with the allowance of Whitford’s claim.

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