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The true construction of the patent law is that the first inventor cannot acquire a good title to a patent, if he suffers the thing invented to go into public use, or to be publicly sold for use before he makes application for a patent.
Plaintiff Joseph Shaw filed suit against defendant Joseph Cooper for infringing on plaintiff’s patent for an improvement in firearms. Defendant asserted in defense that the improvement claimed by plaintiff was already known and used. At trial, plaintiff placed into evidence his letters patent obtained four years after arriving in the United States, along with evidence of defendant’s infringement. Plaintiff further placed into evidence testimony that prior to his departure from England, the principal importers of guns to the United States had never heard of plaintiff’s invention. Defendant introduced testimony that plaintiff’s patent had already been in public use prior to the grant of plaintiff’s letters patent. Judgment was entered for defendant, and plaintiff filed a writ of error.
Under the circumstances, could the defendant be held liable for patent infringement?
The United States Supreme Court reviewed the evidence, which indicated that plaintiff’s invention had been in public use for three years prior to plaintiff’s application for a patent to assert his rights. The Court held that under the doctrine of presumed acquiescence, the first inventor could not acquire good title to a patent if the invention went into public use prior to filing an application for a patent. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment for defendant.