Lyon v. Bausch & Lomb (1955)

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Background:

The court is disputing the validity of claims found in the patent of Mr. Lyon, a patent for a method of applying a coating to optical lenses. More specifically, the debate is on whether or not the invention had been disclosed in an earlier patent or been in public use before Lyon filed the patent application in 1942, and whether his specific method is deserving of a patent.

The process of applying the coating used two steps. First, the lens must be heated in a vacuum to remove all the adsorbed water and grease have evaporated from its surface. The second step is to vaporize an inorganic salt within the vacuum while the lens is heated until the desired thickness is achieved.

While similar processes had been issued patents before, none of them mentioned heating the lens while vaporizing the salt. However, one man, Cartwright, had apparently discovered this particular prior to the date of Lyon's patent application. Cartwright shared the information with a couple other men who employed the process, but abandoned it before too long. Cartwright experimented further and even sold some of the lenses in a private venture. However, he abandoned the method shortly after his experiments were concluded.


Court Ruling:

The claims are valid and the patent was infringed.


Argument:

All other arguments involved as to whether or not there was prior art or prior invention to invalidate the patent aside, the two test was whether or not Lyon's contribution (applying the coating while the lens is heated) could support a patent.

With regard to non-obviousness, the court stated that Lyon's contribution would have sufficed for a valid patent twenty or thirty years ago (before the Act of 1952), as it conforms to the accepted standards of the time. The court agreed that Lyon's contribution was, although simple, beyond being obvious "to a person having ordinary skill in the art" (Section 103) because even the most competent workers in the field had been seeking such a coating as Lyon's method provides.


Observations

With regard to the non-obviousness requirement of a patent, this court decision breaks from the stricter standards held by the court within the past twenty or thirty years and returns to the more open standards of the courts before, as the court believes those strict standards are more than what are required by Section 103.