Jan. 28th: Patentability Analysis - Andrew McBride

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I have read three patents (3136205, 1235626, 877131) referenced in the patent for an improved wood screw that was analyzed for the January 24th homework assignment (4697969). Patent number 3136205 details a "Self-Tapping Wood Screw" pertaining to wood screws with single or multiple threads which have either cut or rolled threads. The main feature of this patent is to have a the main threadings interrupted to form cutting or chisel formations, and also to have a groove or flute to guide wood cuttings out of the screw's path and towards the surface of wood that the screw is penetrating. An older patent, patent number 1235626, details a new and useful screw which improves upon countersinking screws. This new and improved countersinking screw uses a "spiral groove", which serves to form a cutter at the screw's largest diameter (near the tip) which can chip away wood particles while the screw is being inserted. A third patent, older yet, is patent number 877131. This patent details a screw with spiral grooves that are undercut and beveled to provide a sharp cutting edge. All of these patents share the common feature of having a spiral cutting groove as a drill bit would have. In fact, the only thing novel in the newest patent (which I've chosen to analyze throughout the semester) is to have a second flute starting from the screw's tip which only extends a few screw-heads up the length of the screw's shank.

In light of these prior works and the Hotchkiss v. Greenwood, 52 U.S. 11 (1850) case, I do not think that patent 4697969 would be deemed valid. The Hotchkiss case decided that the doorknob patent was invalid because a mere substitution of material or combination of existing technology in the field was not inventive enough to qualify for a patent. The patent I am analyzing is novel only in that it adds a second flute presumably to increase cutting effectiveness near the screw's tip. Simply double the available cutting surfaces would not seem like an invention to the Supreme Court in session in 1850. It's too simple, too obvious to a professional in the field.

As for the Supreme Court that ruled in the A. & P. Tea Co. v. Supermarket Corp., 340 U.S. 147 (1950), I think that this patent would still not have been allowed. This court seems to highly scrutinize combinations of existing technologies: "The function of a patent is to add to the sum useful knowledge... A patent for a combination which only unites old elements with no change in their respective functions, such as is presented here, obviously withdraws what already is known into the field of its monopoly and diminishes the resources available to skillful men." I think that the screw claimed by patent 4697969, which introduces no novel concept or invention other than having two flutes instead of one, could not possibly be valid under the rule concurrent with the A. & P. Tea Co. v. Supermarket Corp., 340 U.S. 147 (1950) case.

The section of law pertaining to non-obvious subject matter and patentability (35 USC 103) does not invalidate this patent as the rulings from the two court cases did. 35 USC 103 does not mention combinations as invalidating patents--unless the combinations are obvious. For the wood screw with two flutes instead of one, the jump may be seen as non-obvious, since clearly no one else had attempted to or conceived the idea to use two flutes to improve a wood screw.