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Law School Case Brief

Egbert v. Lippmann - 104 U.S. 333 (1881)

Rule:

A use necessarily open to public view, if made in good faith solely to test the qualities of the invention, and for the purpose of experiment, is not a public use within the meaning of the statute. Letters-patent are rendered invalid if the invention which they cover was in public use, with the consent and allowance of the inventor, for more than two years prior to his application.

Facts:

Samuel Barnes designed an improvement in corset-springs in 1855. Upon completion of the invention, Barnes showed to several of his friends how the corset-springs work. In 1873, and several years after the invention had been put to use with Barnes’ explicit consent, a letter-patent was issued under his name. His wife, the executrix of his estate, filed for infringement against the appellee, alleging that Barnes was the original and first inventor of the improvement covered by the reissued letters-patent, and that it had not, at the time of his application for the original letters, been for more than two years in public use or on sale, with his consent or allowance.

Issue:

In a suit brought for an alleged infringement of reissued letters-patent, were the letters-patent valid, notwithstanding the fact that the invention had been put to public use more than two years prior to the patent’s issuance and the alleged use of the invention was used with the inventor's express consent and allowance?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the re-issued letters patent to executrix Frances Lee Barnes for an improvement in corset springs are void on account of two years' public use, by the consent and allowance of Samuel Barnes before he made application for letters patent. The Court held on review that, under 5 Stat. 117, ch. 357 (1836), if an invention was in public use for more than two years prior to the patent application, with the consent and allowance of the inventor, the effect was to render the letters-patent invalid. According to the Court, in order to establish such public use it was not necessary that more than one of the patented articles be publicly used, nor did public use necessarily depend upon the number of persons to whom the articles' use was known. Where evidence established that the original inventor made public use of the invention, presented samples of invention to others, and imposed no obligation or restriction of secrecy when samples were not presented for purposes of experiment, and when public use the invention was complete, such evidence was competent to establish public use under 5 Stat. 117, ch. 357 (1836). Further, the Court held that because Samuel Barnes slept on his rights for 11 years while the invention made its way into almost universal public use, abandonment of the invention could be inferred from the conduct of the inventor. Affirming, the Court concluded that the defense of two years' public use, by the consent and allowance of the inventor, before he made application for letters-patent, was satisfactorily established by the evidence.

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