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Patent protection is not extended in the absence of that degree of skill and ingenuity which constitute essential elements of every invention or where an improvement is the work of the skillful mechanic, not that of the inventor.
Plaintiffs filed an action against defendants alleging that the latter infringed the plaintiffs’ patent right for a new and useful improvement in making door and other knobs of all kinds of clay used in pottery, and of porcelain. The court instructed the jury that if knobs of the same form and for same purposes had been known or used in the United States prior to the alleged invention and patent of the plaintiffs, and if there was no ingenuity or skill necessary to construct such knob than that of an ordinary mechanic acquainted with the business, the patent was void, and the plaintiffs were not entitled to recover. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that it was erroneous for the trial court to give the aforementioned jury instruction.
Was the plaintiffs’ patent for a “new and useful improvement in making door and other knobs of all kinds of clay used in pottery” valid?
The Supreme Court affirmed a judgment finding for defendant after refusing to give a particular jury instruction as requested by plaintiffs in an action alleging infringement of plaintiff's patent right for a new and useful improvement in making door and other knobs of all kinds of clay used in pottery, and of porcelain. The Court held that the instruction was proper and the patent was invalid. The Court found that there was no novelty. The only thing new was the substitution of a knob of a different material. No new mechanical device or contrivance resulted. The improvement consisted in the superiority of the material over that previously employed in making the knob; however, this of itself could not be the subject of a patent. The Court noted that the application of an old machine to some new purpose is not the foundation of a patent; but an improvement of an old machine, in order to apply it to the same purposes more advantageously, is the subject of a patent. The difference was formal and lacking of ingenuity or invention. The improvement was the work of the skillful mechanic, not that of the inventor. Therefore, there was no patent infringement.