Putnam's Handy Law Book for the Layman

Patent. - In the United States the thing patentable is a new and useful art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter, or new and useful improvement thereof, or new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. An idea, principle or law of nature is not patentable, but only [203]the means for utilizing the idea or principle. Many a great discovery has slipped away from the inventor or discoverer, because he sought to hold the discovery or invention of the principle as his own, instead of limiting his claim to the means or methods of putting his principle into use. Morse's invention of telegraphy is one of them. An art or process is patentable as well as machinery, though the inventor may not know the abstract principles involved in his art. But he must know and describe the steps by which the result is accomplished. A composition of matter is a mechanical mixture or chemical combination of two or more substances; and an improvement is an addition to, or change in, a known art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter, which produces a useful result and is patentable if it amounts to invention. Lastly "a patentable design may consist of a new and ornamental shape given to an article of manufacture, or of an ornamentation to be placed upon an article of old shape." It is said that the law relating to this subject intends that the patentability of a design shall be determined by its appeal to the eyes of the ordinary man, and not to the eyes of a jury of artists. Design patents are granted for different periods, three years and a half, seven years and fourteen years, as the applicant may elect.

The subject matter of a patent must be new and useful. It must be new not only to the patentee, but to all the people in this country, and at the time he filed his invention. The federal law, however, secures a patentee who had no knowledge that his invention had been discovered abroad and which had not been patented there, nor described in a printed publication. Before the enactment of this law a patent was not granted without showing [204]that the applicant was the original inventor with relation to every part of the world.

Much has been said concerning the novelty of an invention. This may be in the use of an old means in a new way; or a change of shape or form to produce new functions and results, but the changes must amount to invention, which is more than mere novelty.

A foreign patent in order to invalidate an American patent must antedate the invention patented. A foreign patent exists as a patent only as of the date when the invention was published. In England an invention is not patented within the meaning of the act of Congress until the enrollment of the complete specification.

What is meant by a prior publication? It is a printed book, newspaper or document of a public nature disclosing the invention intended and actually employed for the purpose of informing the public. Publication in a book of general circulation is sufficient; business catalogues or circulars are not such publications as are meant in the law.

To defeat a patent on the ground of want of novelty the proof of prior use or knowledge must be convincing, sufficient to establish the fact beyond a reasonable doubt. The recollection of one witness concerning the peculiar construction of a piece of machinery, especially if the structure is one of complex character, is not enough evidence to defeat a patent. Much less evidence, however, might be sufficient to prove that a very simple invention had been anticipated.

To justify the granting of a patent it must be useful. If the invention be frivolous or pernicious, the inventor cannot secure for it legal protection. [205]The use of the invention must not be contrary to public health or morals. It is not needful that the invention should be the best of its kind, or that it should accomplish all that the inventor claims for it. Furthermore, its utility depends on the state of the art at the time of making the claim or issuing the patent; its subsequent inutility does not invalidate the patent. Extensive use is evidence of utility. The presumption of law favors a patent, and the burden of proof is on the one attacking it to show that it is not useful. The infringement of an invention is in effect an admission of utility, because use implies utility.

A patent also calls for the exercise of inventive power. Though invention must be seen in every patent, it is difficult to define. Says a former commissioner of patents, Justice Duell: "It is a matter resting in judgment and therefore no fixed rule for its determination is possible." Some principles, however, assist in defining the term. "Thus, it is declared that an act of invention is primarily mental and involves the conception or mental construction of a means not previously known for accomplishing a useful result. It is not the mere adaptation of old means by common reasoning, but is the construction of new means through an exercise of the creative faculties of the mind." Between invention and discovery the patent laws draw no distinction. Again, it has been often said that the design of the patent laws is to reward those who make a substantial invention or discovery, which is an additional step in the useful arts. The law never intended to grant a monopoly for every trifling device which would naturally occur to a skilled mechanic in the ordinary progress of manufacture.

[206]An article of manufacture is not patentable because means have been devised to make it more perfectly than before; it must be new in itself and not merely in its workmanship. A machine-made article therefore is not patentable simply because it is thus made, and no longer by hand.

The substitution of an art, manufacture, or composition of matter of one element or device for another which does the same thing in the same way and accomplishes a similar result is not invention. Even if the substituted part performs the function better, there is no patentable invention unless some new function or result is secured. Changes therefore of the relative location of parts without changing the functions performed by them are not an invention, nor is the omission of a part with a corresponding omission of function.

A patent can issue only to the inventor, or if he is dead to his executor or administrator. If there be two original inventors the one who first made it or brought it to this country is entitled to a patent. A patent granted on the application of a non-inventor is void. By first inventor is meant the one who first had a mental conception of the invention provided he exercised diligence in perfecting it. If there be a rival claimant the party who first reduced to practice the invention was, until the contrary fact is shown, the first inventor. One who merely utilizes the ideas of others is not an original inventor and is not entitled to a patent. In the United States any person, regardless of residence, citizenship or age may obtain a patent.

An invention is reduced to practice when it is so far perfected that it may be put into practical and successful use. The machine may not be [207]perfectly constructed, but it embodies all the essential elements of the invention. Demonstration of its success by actual use is usually necessary, but not always. The reduction to practice must be by the applicant for a patent, or by his agent; to do this by a third party will not suffice. The person who first conceived the invention, but was later than his rival in reducing it to practice, is not regarded as the first inventor unless he exercised due diligence to perfect his invention after the time that his rival entered the field against him.

Two or more parties may contribute in developing an idea and producing an invention, which is truly the result of their joint mental efforts, and not the separate invention of either. In such case both must apply for the patent, which is granted to them jointly. But if a patent is thus issued to two and only one of them is the inventor, the patent is invalid. Nor can one of two joint inventors make application and secure the patent on assignment from the other; both must join.

The patent must issue on the application of and in the name of the real inventor even though he was employed to make it for the benefit of another. Notwithstanding, the employer is the owner of the patent and may compel the patentee to transfer it to him. Of course their respective rights may be changed by agreement. If no agreement exists, a company that employs a skilled workman to make improvements on its machinery is not entitled to the patents granted to the workman. Says Justice Duell: "An employee, performing all the duties assigned to him in his department of service, may exercise his inventive faculties in any direction he chooses with the assurance that whatever invention he may thus conceive and perfect is his individual [208]property. The company, however, has an implied license to make, use and sell the invention."

Where a party employs another to assist him in perfecting an invention the presumption is that the employer is the real inventor of the thing produced by their joint effort. On the other hand, where a person is employed to exercise his inventive skill, because he is known to be the possessor of it, Edison for example, the presumption is in favor of the employee. Government employees may secure patents on inventions made by them during their employment, after their relationship has ceased. The government may have an implied license to use the invention without any title thereto.

Patents may be issued and reissued to assignees on the application of inventors. On the death of an inventor before a patent has been issued to him, his executor or administrator may apply therefor, who takes the patent in trust for the heirs. A foreign executor or administrator may make a similar application. He must, however, present a proper certificate of his authority to act. Likewise, a legally appointed guardian or conservator of an insane inventor may apply for and obtain a patent in trust for him.

The inventor must apply to the commissioner of patents for letters patent which secure to him his invention. The application comprises a petition, specification, claims, oath, drawings if the nature of the invention may be thus shown, and a model, when this is required by the patent office. A fee of fifteen dollars also must be sent with the papers. The application must be signed by the inventor and two witnesses.

The specification is the written description of the invention and of the manner and process of making, [209]constructing, compounding, and using the invention; whatever it may be. He must describe not merely the principle of the invention, but the mode of applying it in such a clear, intelligible manner that those who are "skilled in the art" can, without other aid, use the invention. Nothing should be left to experiment. The phrase "skilled in the art" means persons of ordinary skill. Whether a description is clear, exact and sufficient is a question for the jury whenever it is a matter of legal contention.

In describing an improvement the same rule is applied. The description should show clearly the nature of it. The description should distinguish between the old and the new. "A description in a patent for an improvement is sufficient if a practical mechanic acquainted with the construction of the old machine in which the improvement is made, can, with the aid of the patent and diagram, adopt the improvement." If an inventor intentionally conceals facts or misleads the public by an erroneous description, his patent is void.

Concerning the claim or claims with which the inventor concludes his specification many questions have arisen. First, the claim must be clearly stated so that the public may know what it is. The claim should not be too broad. Several claims may be made, but they should not be varying phraseology for the same thing. They should state the physical structure or elements of mechanism by which the end or result is produced.

The inventor must make oath that he believes himself to be the original and first inventor, that he does not believe that the thing was ever before known or used, and as to his citizenship. If dead [210]or insane, the oath must be made by his executor, administrator, or other representative. After the application is granted another fee of twenty dollars must be paid.

The commissioner of patents must make an examination for the purpose of deciding whether a patent may be granted or allowed. This examination is made by an examiner, whose decision, however, is not conclusive and may be set aside by the commissioner. The patent office is not confined to technical evidence in rejecting applications, but may base its action on anything disclosing the facts relating to the matter.

When objection is made to the form of the application, an amendment may be made by the applicant or his attorney to correct the error; and this may be done at any time prior to the entry by the first examiner of a final order of rejection, and within one year from the date of the preceding action by the patent office.

When two parties apply for a patent for substantially the same thing an interference is declared and the respective parties must present proofs in support of their claims. The question between them is priority of invention. The proceeding then is much like an equity trial with perhaps a wider latitude in admitting evidence bearing on the inquiry.

The applicant, if dissatisfied with the rejection of his claim by the first examiner, or with the decision in an interference case, can appeal to the board of the examiners-in-chief, and if dissatisfied with their decision he may appeal to the commissioner in person, and if still dissatisfied he can appeal to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. All appeals must be taken from the patent office within [211]a year, or a shorter period, if one has been fixed in a decision.

The decision of the commissioner of patents in granting a patent is not conclusive that the inventor is the first and original inventor, but only prima facie, that is, in the absence of other evidence to the contrary. Consequently, the question of patentability in every case may be reexamined in the courts. In the early days of administering the patent law an inventor often applied to a court for an injunction to prevent an infringer from continuing his work. The court, assuming that the patent had been properly granted, did not hesitate, on adequate proof of the infringement to grant the injunction. The courts were not slow in finding out that patents were sometimes granted that ought not to have been, and so the practice was changed and patentees were required to establish their right to a patent in a court of law before a court would enjoin an infringer, except in very clear cases. These hearings in the courts to decide the claims of patentees, are often prolonged, running through years to collect testimony, and are appealed from one court to another finally reaching the supreme federal tribunal. After a patent is thus judicially established injunctions are readily granted against all infringers.


Do It Yourself Legal Forms
Law for the Laymen - Patent
Page Updated 7:05 PM Saturday 4/4/2015