A. & P. TEA CO. v. SUPERMARKET CORP., 340 U.S. 147 (1950)

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Situation

  • In May of 1941 E.D. Turnham was granted a patent for a cashier counter that, when pushed or pulled, moves groceries deposited within it by a customer to the checking clerk via a three sided frame, or rack.
  • Two previous courts, District and Appeals, found that the patent (and its three claims) was valid.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certoirari to review the case and determine whether previous courts "applied correct criteria of invention."
  • Supermarket Corp. was the asignee of the patent, and they sued A&P Tea Co. for infringement of the patent

Outcome

  • The patent is invalid. The Supreme Court reverses the decisions of the previous two courts.

Reasoning

  • Neither District or Appealate courts "has made any finding that the old elements which made up this device perform any additional function in the combination"
    • Basically, the "invention" is just a combination of known elements, which together bring no new function - the device is simply an obvious extension of the previous art
    • Merely extending the length of the grocery counter does not warrant patentablity
    • Furthermore, a patent for a device that "only unites old elements...diminishes the resources available to skilled men" - there is no new contribution to science, so a patent would just inhibit widespread use of an ordinary thing
  • The device is not patentable simply because it has has widespread commercial success - "commercial success without invention will not make patentability"
  • Concurring opinion reitterates that this device could be made obviously by any "skilled mechanic or operator"