Discussion of My Patent relating to Hotchkiss/A&P and Lyon (KyleR)
In all likelihood, the patent for Active Armor would not have been deemed valid under the analyses of Hotchkiss and A&P. The patent itself can be said to make three claims of invention: covering the surface of a vehicle with a series of armor plates, using plates consisting of three different materials (malleable, hard, and thermally dissipative) that combine to protect against all three common anti-tank rounds, and securing each plate to the vehicle with a spacer.
Like the patents in the two cases mentioned, this patent is essentially a “combination invention” where elements from old patents are combined to create a new invention. The idea of covering the surface of a vehicle was certainly not new when this patent was issued in 1985. In fact, one of this patent’s own references traces the idea back to 1869 when armor was used to protect marine vessels. Nor was the concept of combining layers of different materials new in 1985, as shown by the patent’s reference to an 1877 patent that describes the technique of alternating layers of malleable and hard steels. The author also states that, “most traditional methods of armament have protected against one type of charge or another, but not against all three types.” This indicates that successful countermeasures have already been found for the three types of rounds this new armor protects against. Lastly, the idea of leaving a certain amount of space between the vehicle and the armor is not novel. The patent references a 1919 patent that focuses exclusively on this armor-spacing concept in the protection of marine vessels against torpedo attacks.
Thus, the novelty of this invention lies only in how it combines the previous armor types into one system to protect against three types of anti-tank rounds. However, the Hotchkiss and A&P decisions made clear that combination inventions were inherently unpatentable since they did not demonstrate ingenuity or advance scientific knowledge. In Hotchkiss, a patent for clay doorknobs was deemed invalid since the manufacturing process used was already known and the clay material itself was not an invention. In A&P, a new cashier’s counter was denied a patent because it was merely a combination of known elements that did not serve a new function, even though the new counter was experiencing great commercial success. By this same reasoning, the Active Armor patent would be deemed invalid since it is only a sum of old parts that do not serve a new function in the armored defense market.
In contrast, this Active Armor patent would have been deemed valid under the reasoning of Lyon which incorporated the new Patent Act of 1952 to introduce a nonobviousness requirement. The Lyon case reflects a significant shift in court opinion towards making combination patents more attainable. Similar to the Hotchkiss and A&P cases, Lyon involved an invention that was not inherently novel. Lyon sought patent rights for the process of heating an optical surface while coating it with a light-transmitting evaporated film to improve the bond strength of the film with the surface. Even though the coating process was an industry standard and the application of heat seemed like an elementary addition to the process, the Court deemed this patentable since it was demonstrated that Lyon’s modification to the process was not obvious to the average worker. Similarly, the Active Armor patent displays a degree of nonobviousness. It should be recognized that “there has been difficulty in arriving at a means of protecting against all three types of charges.” This would suggest that other researchers have attempted to combine elements of protection against all three charges into one type of armor but have failed. This failure by other workers in the field demonstrates that three-in-one armor was not an obvious development and is therefore worthy of a patent.
The difference in opinions between Hotchkiss/A&P and Lyon comes from the evolution of what it means to possess “ordinary skill” in the art. Prior to the Act of 1952, a combination invention was perceived to lack any kind of extraordinary inspiration whatsoever. It was assumed that anyone of ordinary skill in the art possessed the ability to combine several known elements into one new invention, whether that is applying the manufacturing techniques of metal doorknobs to clay doorknobs or joining a moving grocery rack with a cashier’s counter. After 1952, however, more creative credit was given to the ability to unify different processes. Adding heat to an existing coating process may seem simple, but the Court saw fit to reward the person who achieved this where others had failed.
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