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Law School Case Brief

Winans v. Adam - 56 U.S. (15 How.) 330 (1854)


On a patent infringement trial, two questions arise. The first is, what is the thing patented; the second, has that thing been constructed, used, or sold by the defendants. The first is a question of law, to be determined by the court, construing the letters-patent, and the description of the invention and specification of claim annexed to them. The second is a question of fact, to be submitted to a jury.


A patent was taken out for making the body of a burden railroad car of sheet iron, the upper part being cylindrical, and the lower part in the form of a frustum of a cone, the under edge of which has a flange secured upon it, to which flange a movable bottom is attached. Defendant was alleged to have copied completely down to all but the shape of the car itself. Plaintiff appealed the decision of the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland granting judgment to defendants.


Was the copy considered an infringement of the original patent?




The court ruled that the lower court decision for defendants, which limited the claim solely to the particular geometrical form mentioned in the patent specification, was in error when the result attained was the same mode of operation as described by the patentee. The court held that a patent could not merely be granted for a change of form. The court also held that the patentee did not limit his own claim of protection over his patent to less than what he invented, and since specifications were to be construed liberally, patentee's claim covered his entire invention including form.

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