Riester: 1/28/11 Homework

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Two patents referenced in my patent are No. 3,995,508 [1] and No. 3,969,948 [2].

Similarly to my chosen patent, the two referenced patents deal with varying the sprocket size of a bicycle transmission based solely on the input torque, using some combination of springs and dampers in order to automatically shift gears. They all were issued within 15 years, with mine being the most recent. Judging by the lack of automatic transmission bicycles on the market today, despite the “obviousness” of the idea, it would seem as if none of the patented designs ever achieved much commercial success.

Considering these similarities, it is difficult to believe that my patent would have been valid under the analysis of Hotchkiss. Hotchkiss deals with a case of a patent that describes only a difference in material to consider itself an invention. While my patent does more than simply substitute a material from one of these prior patents, it cannot really be said that it required more skill “than was possessed by and ordinary mechanic acquainted with the business” Hotchkiss vs. Greenwood, 52 U.S 11. Indeed many had attempted to invent some kind of automatic bicycle transmission prior to this (though their success is also debatable), and thus the inventiveness of the idea is necessarily diminished.

Contrastingly, the patent may have held under the analysis of A&P, a case in which the main question seems to be: is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? Combination patents are often under scrutiny and this is simply another criterion they must achieve. The court claimed that devices combined into a patentable invention must “perform any additional or different function in the combination than they perform out of it.” A. & P. Tea Co. vs. Supermarket Corp., 340 U.S. 147. Now, regardless of the success of the invention of my patent, I think it would hold that the device does in fact do more than its individual parts could do separately. The springs and dampeners do in fact perform their normal duties, but to a different end. It is not the trivial combinations of functions.

However, my patent may not have stood under the other main idea of A. & P., i.e. “The function of a patent is to add to the sum of useful knowledge.” The spirit of a patent is to reward the inventor with limited financial monopoly over his invention, but simultaneously increasing knowledge in that art by disclosing the details of the invention so that more can be learnt from it and subsequent developments can build on prior ones. I would argue that this patent does little if anything to add to the sum of useful knowledge in the field of bicycle transmissions.

The main canon behind Lyon is that any patent which solves an industrial issue for which a solution has long been sought but none discovered is indeed valid and not “obvious.” ”It supplanted the existing practice and occupied substantially the whole field.” Lyon v. Bausch and Lomb, 224 F.2d 530. This includes people having a similar idea but failing to successfully implement it, and subsequently abandoning said idea. Under this standard, my patent would most likely hold valid if, hypothetically, it was to achieve commercial success, and then someone was to infringe upon the patent. In that case, it would be the only automatic bicycle transmission to substantially occupy the field and thus, be “non-obvious.” However it is unlikely this will ever be an issue. These cases nicely outline the progression of the standards of non-obviousness as I have discussed. However, criteria do seem to be less strict than in the past. In general, I would think that is because of the complexity of many of today’s inventions. It would be difficult to invent something that truly advanced science and satisfied some sort of commercial need if it did not combine at least some elements of previously known sciences. Thus the question must be is the combination an inventive or merely trivial one?