Egbert v. Lippmann (JWB)

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The Case

  • Patent for improvement in corset-springs was issued July 17, 1866, and was reissued Jan 7, 1873
    • Allows two plates on a corset to slide past each other longitudinally but not laterally
  • Defendants infringed on second claim of patent
    • Court dismissed the bill, complainant appealed

Public Use

  • Act of July 4, 1836: render letters-patent invalid if the invention was in public use (with the consent of the inventor) for more than two years prior to patent application
  • Barnes made corset steels for a friend between January and May, 1855 (which she used for several years)
    • Barnes admitted these steels embody his invention
  • Barnes also showed Joseph Sturgis his corset steels (worn by his wife) in 1863


  • The public use of an invention does not necessarily need more than one of the patented articles publicly used (i.e. a single railway-car being used for two years is public)
  • Public/private does not necessarily depend on the number of people to whom its use it known
  • Some inventions are by their very character only capable of being used where they cannot be seen or observed by the public eye (i.e. hidden gears or cog-wheels, not in the public eye but still public)
  • Ruled that Barnes’ invention was public for more than two years before application
    • the invention was complete and no changes made

Dissenting Opinion

  • Language of the Act of 1836 states that if the invention is known or used by others without the inventor’s consent, it does not need to be public (and can still void the patent)

“A private use with consent, which could lead to no copy or reproduction of the machine, which taught the nature of the invention to no one but the party to whom such consent was given, which left the public at large as ignorant of this as it was before the author's discovery, was no abandonment to the public, and did not defeat his claim for a patent.”