1/28/2011: Hotchkiss and A&P reasoning - Stulc

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The Hotchkiss case and the A&P cases both present different decisions that pertain to the notion that an invention must be non-obvious.

The Hotchkiss case from 1850 holds that in order for an object to be patentable, the object or process needs to present a new element of ingenuity that extends it past the ability to be made or performed by any “ordinary mechanic acquainted with the business”. It deals directly with the use of new materials in otherwise old parts. Ultimately, it holds that the improvement brought forth by the use of these new materials is the work of a mechanic not an inventor, thus rendering it unpatentable.

The A&P case from 1950 distinguishes an invention as something different than a group of previously public parts assembled together. It holds that “the key to patentability of a mechanical device that brings old factors into cooperation is presence or lack of invention”. They found that the cash register patent was not valid because the standard of invention appeared to be less exacting that that required where a combination is made up entirely of old components. In addition, court examines the grow of power in the patent office and traces the powers back to its constitutional basis, promoting more discretion in the granting of patent rights.

The patent I wrote about for the first homework assignment describes a rear bike derailleur that has an improved mechanism for transitioning the chain between gears. It will be more robust than previous derailleur, as well as less noisy during riding. It was issued in 1986. This patent references three other patents that describe various components of the derailleur that are utilized in the design of the new derailleur.

The first of these patents describes a completely new mechanism to use as a rear derailleur. Instead of using two parallel links to comprise a moving arm to the fixed link on the derailleur, the Shimano company devised a way to use only one arm. This patent claims that the new design offers benefits in the performance of the bicycle because the derailleur will maintain a constant chain orientation, decreasing the amount that the “drive chain rocks”. In addition, the patent holds that the new mechanism can be manufactured simpler and more reliably. This patent was issued in 1981. [1]

In regards to this patent, the 1986 patented derailleur design would stand as a clear invention. Although it is comprised of the general mechanism used from the 1981 derailleur, it makes subtle changes to the gear shifting mechanism that helps the chain shift more fluidly. This innovation in the mechanism is outside the bounds of a standard bike mechanic and improves the function of the derailleur. This would make the device patentable using the A&P reasoning. In addition, the Hotchkiss reasoning would also probably support the patent because it elaborates on the existing sub-units and includes actual new mechanisms.

The second patent referenced by my original patent is a bicycle derailleur with a reduced lateral width. This decreased size makes the derailleur less likely to be struck by a foreign object while riding and thus more likely to remain functioning. It manages to accomplish the smaller size be rearranging the mounting position of the fixed member on the derailleur. The smaller size can be applicable to many different types of the derailleur because the invention does not encompass the helical spring. This versatility makes the patent very applicable to the Shimano Industrial Company. It was issued in 1982. [2]

Once again, the patent from 1986 utilizes the technology from the old patent (which is fine because they are held by the same company), but expands on that patent to include a new element that improves the function of the derailleur. The fact that it is an innovation in components and an improvement that required a nonobvious innovation lends itself to be a legitimate innovation in both the thought processes of Hotchkiss and A&P.

The third patent describes a rear derailleur that prevents the possibility of the chain being thrown into the spokes of the wheel. It adds a protective synthetic plastic disc to the inside of the derailleur. When the derailleur kicks the chain off the inside of the cassette, this ring stops the chain from entering the spokes and damaging the wheel. Once again, this is also patented by the Shimano Industrial Company and the patent was issued in 1983. [3]

This particular innovation seems like it could be questionable in itself. The inclusion of a plastic disc seems like the obvious solution to the problem of the chain falling into the spokes and does not require excess time or resources to compose. It is an improvement, but not one that merits exclusive rights according to the A&P decision. However, when judging the 1986 patent against this 1983 patent, Shimano once again combined the element of the old patent with its new mechanism to create an improved part that benefits the user, leading to the belief that both Hotchkiss reasoning and A&P reasoning would grant this patent. Through the examination of the referenced patents, the 1986 Rear Bicycle Derailleur seems to be justifiable innovation that is worthy of exclusive rights granted by a patent.