User:Adam T. Letcher

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Selected Patent

  • Patent 4,875,508: Beverage Container for Use in Outer Space
    • Date Issued: October 24th, 1989
  • The idea behind this particular patent is to design a beverage container that can both function in zero-gravity environments as well as withstand the stresses during takeoff and landing. Since there is no gravity, there is no natural separation of liquids and gases in the container. The mechanics of the patented design use both an elastic bag inside the container that contracts and forces the beverage out of the container, and also a flexible bag that is surrounded by a compressible gas. The patent and design drawings can be found here [1] via Google Patents.
    • This patent interested because I am interested in the complications that zero gravity environments have on even the simplest things, such as the fluid mechanics we take for granted in drinking a beverage.

Inventiveness and Invention in the Combination of Known Devices

Patent 2,762,534: Device for Tapping a Barrel and Removing the Liquid Therefrom [2]

As seen in the patent document above, Patent 2,762,534 is an invention that is designed to provide a new and better method of removing liquid from a solid container, most commonly beer from a barrel as typically sold in the United States. The need for the invention arises from the adverse effects of introducing air into direct contact and mixing with the carbonic gases in the barrel of beer. This mixing results in the diluting of the beer's carbonic gases, causing it to become flat and tasteless.
The invention presented in the patent then is a method of removing the liquid from the barrel without air coming into direct contact with the liquid itself and its own vaporized carbonic acids. This is achieved by the means of inserting an expandable bag into the barrel of liquid by means described in the patent document. As air from outside the barrel is pumped by means of a typical hand powered pump, the expandable bag inside the barrel inflates and exerts a constant pressure force on the liquid contained in the barrel. The invention also includes a rod which is inserted into the bottom of barrel and serves as the path along which the liquid is forced. This rod is then attached to a tap by which the liquid can then be dispensed into smaller containers.

Patent 2,816,690: Pressure Packaging Systems for Liquids [3]

This particular patent concerns the invention of a new, faster, and more sterile way of packaging and transporting liquids in large containers. Previously, it was common practice to simply pump the liquid into the solid rigid container through an inlet valve, until it was satisfactorily full. The container was then capped and transported to its destination. This left the liquid exposed to potentially unsterile conditions through direct contact with the inside of the rigid container. Also, in the event that the rigid container was punctured, broken, or damaged in some way, the liquid would rapidly be exposed to the outside environment and spill from the container.
The invention presented here addresses these problems through the use of an elastic core that would receive the liquid to be packaged and expand as it was filled.The diameter of the core would be minimal compared to the overall diameter of the rigid barrel. This elastic core would lie inside the rigid container and be attached to the inlet valve. As the liquid is pumped into the core under pressure, the core would expand until it came into all-around contact with the rigid shell. Upon delivery to its destination, the new container could be hooked to the extraction system. The natural elastic properties of the core would then provide the pressure force needed to extract the contained liquid.
This invention allows liquids to be transported in a much more sterile environment, since the liquid never comes into direct contact with the inside of the rigid container. The invention also provides another layer of protection against contamination in the event that the rigid shell is punctured, broken, or damaged in some way.

Patentability of Chosen Patent

Prior to Development of Modern Patent Code

Prior to the development of the modern United States Patent Code, the views on inventiveness and invention was based largely on the Supreme Court opinion delivered on the case of Hotchkiss v. Greenwood, 52 U.S. 11 (1850) and related cases. Before we analyze the patentability of the current patent by examining as a combination of known devices and materials, it is important to first look at the similarities between the chosen patent and the Pressure Packaging System (PPS) described above. The issue of novelty is an important one, and would negate the validity of the chosen patent regardless of all other factors.
By examining the patent descriptions of both the chosen patent and the PPS, it is seen that the first embodiment of the chosen patent, and a preferred one as described in the patent document, is remarkably simliar to the PPS. Both patents employ an outer rigid container that encases an inner elastic bag whose diameter is insignificant compared to the diameter of the rigid shell. The properties of both of these inner bags are to use the natural elastic forces of the bag to provide the pressure needed to extract the liquid from its container. The only difference between the two, it seems, is the size of the container. While the earlier patent is explicitly intended for large liquid containers for the packaging and transportation of liquids, the patent author makes note of the potential of the PPS to be applied to many different cases that vary according to type of liquid contained and size of container (See Line 40, Right Column of the patent document) [4]. The mere reduction of size of this invention does not in fact produce a new or novel invention and is hardly qualified for a patent. However, since this is simply one of several embodiments of the chosen patent, the overall patent is not yet shown to be invalid.
By examining the second preferred embodiment of the chosen patent, it can be shown that every part of the invention is not, by itself, new or novel. The rigid container is, obviously, the same as many bottles used and sold every day. The expandable or flexible bag is also widely used and known and the use of pressurized carbon dioxide is widespread. If it could be shown however, that these components had not been previously used in this configuration, and the resulting invention is novel and useful, then is would be patentable. However, the issue becomes more complicated when examining the patented Device for Tapping a Barrel (DTB) as described above. In both patents, liquid is removed from a container through the use of a flexible or expandable bag inside a rigid outer container, and the constant pressure force provided by a compressible gas. In the case of the DTB, the working compressible gas is air and for the chosen patent the working gas is carbon dioxide (CO2). The difference, in essence, between the two patents is that the chosen patent uses the natural properties of the compressible CO2 gas to do the work of extracting the liquid, whereas the work to extract the liquid using the DTB comes from a hand operated pump. This is an obvious improvement on the system. However, according to the opinion of the courts, this improvement is one based on the superiority of the carbon dioxide. It does not take any significant skill to simply substitute the carbon dioxide in the chosen patent for the air in the DTB, nor does it take much skill to rearrange the configuration of liquid and gas (where the gas is outside of the bag and the liquid inside). Thus, the chosen patent would be invalid.

Since the Adoption of Modern Patent Code

With the codification of the Modern Patent Laws, the issues raised by cases such as Hotchkiss v. Greenwood and A. & P. Tea Company v. Supermarket Corp. are more clearly addressed, especially the topics of inventions by combination and the condition of non-obviousness. Specifically, 35 USC 103(a) expresses the non-obviousness clause as
(a) A patent may not be obtained though the invention is not identically disclosed or described as set forth in section 102 of this title, if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains. Patentability shall not be negatived by the manner in which the invention was made. [5]
Now, the importance of the simple substitution of carbon dioxide for air needs to be reconsidered. While each component of the embodiment of this patent is not in itself novel, and even their arrangement had been previously known and used, the thought behind the invention represents a significant step in science. By instead using a gas that will eliminate the need for a hand operated pump, the chosen patent's value lies in its ability to remove human work from the process. The chosen patent employs the natural properties, heretofore known but not utilized, to act upon the liquid and extract the liquid from the container. In the field of fluid mechanics, the use of a fluids pressure or momentum has seemingly limitless potential for future use, and represents a step forward in science and innovation when interacting in zero-gravity environments. Thus, in this light the patent should be held to be valid, in the discussed embodiment.

Graham's Plow Patent in Light of the Prior Art

Argument for the Obviousness of the Patent

The improved plow design in Patent 2,627,798: Clamp for Vibrating Shank Plows [6] is not patentable since it does not satisfy the condition of non-obviousness as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 103. The invention is simply a combination of previously known mechanical components in a way that is neither inventive nor non-obvious.
Every component, with the exception of the “stirrup and bolted connections of the shank to the hinge plate and the position of the shank”, is identical in design and composition to Graham’s older Patent 2,493,811: Vibrating Plow and Mounting Therefore [7]. Additionally, the “new” components described in his ‘798 patent had previously been known and used as shown by the Glencoe Patent 3,258,076: Adjustable Spring Clamp Shank Assembly. The Glencoe patent focuses its use of the stirrup to spread the structural wear of the shank’s movement over a surface, rather than at one point. The updates in the Graham ‘798 patent are identical in approach and function to the Glencoe patent.
The argument that the positions of the shank and the hinge plate have been reversed is irrelevant, since there is no change in their mechanical purpose and the inversion of the component location is an obvious and trivial addition and should not be considered patentable. To further the argument of the patent’s obviousness, we must consider a person of ordinary skill in the field. It is well known to any student of solid mechanics and dynamics that a structure subjected to a force over an extended surface is subject to less pressure and subsequent damage than a structure that encounters a force of equal magnitude at a single discrete point. This rationale is clearly employed in both the Glencoe and Graham ‘798 patents, and would be an obvious solution to the problem of joint wear to any student in the field, nonetheless an experienced engineer.
The addition of the “free flex theory” by the patent holder to the benefits of his invention seems to be a desperate grab for his patent’s validity. This claim that the improved flexibility results in a patentable invention was never discussed in his patent document and cannot be applied to the current debate. These arguments are clearly in support of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the patent was invalid.

Argument for the Non-obviousness of the Patent

The ruling by the Supreme Court on the validity of the Graham Patent 2,627,798: Clamp for Vibrating Shank Plows, should be reversed, since the patent does, in fact, satisfy all the conditions of patentability, including novelty, utility, and non-obviousness.
In the original court case Graham v. John Deere, the defendants failed in their efforts to prove that the improved design for reducing structural wear on plow parts and increasing flexibility to absorb larger shocks from obstructions was of an obvious nature to a person of ordinary skill the field. The argument that the patent is invalid since it is a mere combination of previously known parts is false, since an invention in that capacity can be patentable if the whole invention is greater than the sum of its parts. The specific arrangement and composition of the invention at hand is an integral part of the desired performance, and Graham’s patent holds that he has optimized his invention for its purpose.
While there is similarity between the’798 patent and the prior art, specifically the Glencoe patent, the key arrangement of the ‘798 patent proves it to be a new and useful invention that has not been anticipated by the prior art. Glencoe’s clamp uses merely the mechanics of a spring and stirrup to pull the rake arm up and down. Graham’s clamp uses an I-beam structure for support as well as a hinge mechanism that attaches to the spring in the back to pull the rake arm up and down. The new design significantly reduces the structural wear on the ‘811 patent and is a clear improvement. According to 35 U.S.C. 101,
Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title [8].
The need for an improvement of the plow was evidenced by the number of structural fractures and subsequent repairs needs due to the extreme vibrations and oscillations in the plow shanks. If the ‘798 patent were indeed obvious, then any person of ordinary skill in the field could have examined the ‘811 mechanism and deduced that a simple inversion of the hinge plate and shank would improve the flexibility of the shank and extend the lifetime of the plow. However, this was not the case. This observation was never made, although the plow was commercially successful and its use widespread. Just because an improvement is simple does not indicate that it is obvious or not ingenious. There does not need to be a “flash of genius” to prove invention. Thus, the invention should be considered non-obvious and the patent valid.

Non-obviousness Edit

The edited and revised page on non-obviousness can be found here


Brief of Eleven Law Professors and AARP as Amici Curiae in Support of Respondent (Oct. 2, 2009)

Anticipation by a Printed Publication

MEHL/Biophile Intern. Corp. v. Milgraum

This case in the United State Court of Appeals concerned the patent on a method of laser hair removal and its validity. The validity of the patent was challenged by two references, an instruction manual for the Spectrum RD-1200 laser and an article in the 1987 Journal of Investigative Dermatology. MEHL/Biophile owned the '192 patent which concerned a method of using a focused laser beam at a particular wavelength to destroy the follicles of unwanted hair and prevent regrowth. The company sued Milgraum for infringement of the '192 patent. Milgram, who worked for Spectrum, countered and argued for the invalidity of the patent based on an instruction manual for his company's laser as well as an article ('The Polla Article') in a scholarly journal.
The instruction manual described the use of the laser for tattoo removal and was generally the same method as the laser removal method, but was not expressly directed towards hair removal and also failed to mention a perfectly vertical alignment, which was a significant part of the '192 claims. The manual does not teach all the limitations of the claim, and thus could not have anticipated the claim. The Polla article described the damage done to pigmented cells by a laser, specifically the damage done to the "pigment structures in the deep dermis such as hair follicles". Therefore, the court ruled that the Polla article anticipated the '192 patent and rendered it invalid.

Doctrine of Equivalents in Honeywell v. Sundstrand

Brief in favor of Honeywell

This brief argues for ruling in favor of Honeywell based on non-literal infringement according to the doctrine of equivalents. The patent in question details a system to monitor and prevent flow surge in the compressor of a gas turbine engine. The presence of such a surge is extremely damaging to the compressor, and is necessarily prevented for the proper functioning of the engine.
Honeywell’s method of surge protection is detailed in their patent for a system that defines a set point of air flow that acts as the minimum value of desired air flow to avoid surge. The sensing of the airflow is related to a flow related parameter that the system measures and compares to the set point, which is a function of the position of the engine’s inlet guide vanes (IGV).
Sundstrand’s system performs the same purpose, but by measuring a different flow related parameter and comparing it to a set point. The value of this parameter determines whether or not surge protection should be activated, and is related to the position of the IGV’s. Sundstrand’s parameter dealt with pressure differentials across the compressor.
While pressure differentials had been measured in compressors for many years, and indeed in the Honeywell system, they were measured for different reasons than detecting surge conditions. The use of this parameter as a means of detecting surge conditions is little more than a mathematical trick that could not have been foreseen when Honeywell asserted the claims in their patent. Sundstrand’s method serves the same purpose as Honeywell’s with the same performance, but avoids literal infringement by simply working around how to detect potential surge. This cannot be viewed as a reason for prosecution history estoppel since it could not have been reasonably foreseen during patent application.