Graham v. John Deere (KyleR)

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  • Decided by U.S. Supreme Court in 1966.
  • Two patent-infringement claims being debated:
    1. No. 11: "Clamp for vibrating shank plows" - prevents damage to plow
      • 1955 - ruled valid by Fifth Circuit. The combination produces an old result in a cheaper, more effective way
      • 1964 - ruled invalid by Eight Circuit. The combination provides no new result
      • 1966 - ruled invalid by Supreme Court. But neither Circuit applied the correct test
    2. No. 37 and No. 43: a built-in plastic finger sprayer with a "hold-down" cap for insecticide dispensing. Patent issued to Cook Chemical.
      • ruled valid by District Court and Court of Appeals
      • ruled invalid by Supreme Court.

History of Patent Law

  • Congress is given the power to issue patents/monopolies, but that power is limited.
    • must "promote the Progress of ... useful Arts".
    • cannot remove or restrict access to existing knowledge from the public domain.
  • Thomas Jefferson, who authored the 1793 Patent Act, did not intend for patents to be granted for "small details, obvious improvements, or frivolous devices"
  • Congress and Jefferson agreed that is should be up to the courts to develop detailed standards for patentability
    • 1851 - Hotchkiss - device must require more skill than that possessed by an ordinary mechanic
  • 1952 Patent Act - introduces "nonobviousness" in section 103. This section is intended by Congress merely as a codification of judicial precedent set forth in Hotchkiss; not intended to change the general level of patentability.
    • "Under 103, the scope and content of the prior art are to be determined; differences between prior art and the claims at issue are to be ascertained; and the level of ordinary skill in the pertinent art resolved. Against this background, the obviousness or nonobviousness of the subject matter is to be determined. Such secondary considerations as commercial success, long felt but unsolved needs, failure of others, etc., might be utilized to give light to the circumstances..."

No. 11 - Clamp for plows

  • Graham's argument in court focuses on the greater "flexing" qualities of his new design ('798), but this was not a significant feature discussed in the patent filing.
  • all of the elements of Graham's '798 patent are present in the Glencoe device.
  • the prior art is comprised of the Glencoe device and Graham's earlier '811 patent.
    • Graham's new '798 patent is found to introduce nothing new that is not obvious.

No. 37 and No. 43 - "shipper-sprayer"


  • there existed a long-felt need for an integrated sprayer that is mounted directly in a container during filling process and does not leak.
    • Calmar Co. was developing sprayers for Cook Chemical but none were particularly good.
    • Calmar began working for another chemical company
    • Cook assigned Scoggin to continue development, and he perfected it and was granted a patent (1959)
      • device became widely used
    • Calmar then marketed a device very similar to Scoggin's
      • Cook sued Calmar for infringement
  • Cook claims patentability because of: long-felt need, failure of others, and commercial success.
    • District Court and Court of Appeals uphold patent

Prior Art

  • Lohse patent - same function but different sealing method
  • Mellon patent - similar sealing method, but uses a gasket instead of a rib
  • Livingstone patent - very similar sealing feature; used for pouring spouts, not pump sprayers.
  • all of Scoggin's original claims were denied; none mentioned sealing feature.
    • Scoggin's later patent application was only accepted for the sealing arrangement


  • no patentable differences from Livingstone device
    • it does not matter that the Livingstone device was not intended for the insecticide industry. The sealing feature is a mechanical problem; not an insecticide problem.
  • "The Scoggin invention...rests upon exceedingly small and quite nontechnical mechanical differences in a device which was old in the art."
    • "the differences between [the claims] and the pertinent prior art would have been obvious to a person reasonably skilled in that art"

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