A&P Tea Co v. Supermarket Corp. (901422128)

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Read for 1/26/11

Reading Notes

  • Decided in 1950
  • Two lower courts agreed in holding three patents valid and therefore infringed upon
    • This court maintains incorrect criteria of invention were used and therefore the patents are invalid
  • Assert invention of a special cashier's counter that speeds the customer and reduces checking costs for the merchant
    • Moves groceries from the customer to the clerk and back
  • District court found each element known to prior art
    • However the counter with an extension to receive a self-unloading tray to push the contents in front of the cashier is a new and useful combination
  • Court of Appeals upheld
  • Perceived invention only in an extension of the counter
    • USSC thinks they were incorrect in doing so
  • USSC reasoning
    • Extension not mention in the claims in a clear manner
    • A mere change in length in this case does not constitute invention
    • The patent was granted not simply to the change in length but also to old elements
    • The conjunction or concert must contribute something
  • Patents are not good when they subtract resources formerly available to skilled artisans
  • Commercial success without invention does not equal a patent
  • A higher court can only overturn the decision of two concurring lower courts in the face of obvious error

Concurring judges

  • Congress must act with regard to patents under the purpose of promoting the progess of science and useful arts
    • "Inventive genius" is the test most often used
    • Not enough to be new and useful
  • Court recognizes that the "standard of invention" controls cases
  • The Patent Office has exercised discretion to expand its jurisdiction and patented a host of gadgets that have no place in advancing scientific knowledge

Nonobviousness in 1950

  • "New and useful"
  • Must decide what to do if nothing tangible is new and the invention is only bringing old elements together
    • Court has never given a precise definition of this test
  • "Combination" signified presence of invention, "aggregation" signifies lack of
    • The combination must perform an addition or different function
  • No longer enough to be "new and useful"

Class Notes

  • USSC claimed the criteria used for “invention” were incorrect
    • Ruled this was more of business improvement than a scientific improvement
    • Reversed decisions of lower court


  • Patent laws are for the advancement of science
    • Must be difficult, a scientific advancement, and important
    • ”Invention”
  • Standard has been codified more than it was at this point
    • Part of non-obviousness