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US Patent - 24 January 2011
- US Patent 4784107: Ball Pitching System
- Issued on November 15, 1988
- This invention is a pneumatic baseball pitching device. The design is intended to benefit individuals who wish to practice baseball on their own out in an open field. It is intended for those who might not have access to batting cage facilities and do not have someone else who can help to load balls into the dispenser. It can be powered by either a 120 volt AC source or a 12 volt DC source. This allows the machine to operate in remote areas where no AC source is available. The example that the inventor recommends is a car battery. The pitching arm is controlled by air pressure. An air compressor is powered by the DC current to store air pressure. The device loads automatically after each throw. I chose this patent because I am an avid baseball player and fan. I have used a variety of different pitching machines in the past. This particular design appealed to me because it is different from the popular design today which uses rotating disks. The use of pneumatic power is an interesting concept. It will be interesting to compare this pitching machine with the many other devices invented in the 80s and today. There is a wide variety of types of pitching machines which all use different mechanisms to throw the ball. I found this patent browsing through patenstorm.com
Patent Analysis - 28 January 2011
- Discussion of References
- US Patent 4784107, which was issued on 15 NOV 1988, describes the invention of a portable, pneumatically powered pitching machine. A small DC powered air compressor is used to supply compressed air to the throwing arm. After the air pressure builds up, it is discharged into the cylinder throwing arm causing the arm to rotate forward and jettison the ball. The arm is then pulled back to its original position by a spring where it presses down on a lever to release a baseball from the chute. The ball rolls down into a basket on the arm, and the machine is ready to throw another ball once the air pressure has reached its desired amount.
- US Patent 4995371, which was issued on 26 FEB 1991, describes a portable, mechanically powered pitching machine. A motor driven by a DC power source is used to crank the throwing arm down into the ready position. As the throwing arm goes down, it, also, presses on a lever which releases a ball from the chute and loads it into the basket on the arm. The arm is then released and it is rotated forward by two springs. The arm is then cranked back by the motor, readying it to throw another ball.
- US Patent 4082076, which was issued on 04 APR 1978, describes the invention of a portable, spring pitching apparatus. It is operated by the batter depressing a pedal. This releases a line causing one spring to pull the throwing arm forward and pitch the ball towards the batter. The opposing spring then pulls back on the throwing arm to help balance the apparatus and prevent the arm from over rotating. The ball must then be reloaded manually as there is no automatic feed system. The patent discusses having the ball attached to a spring so that it can be retrieved easily.
- US Patent 4995371: Ball Throwing Machine
- Issued: 26 FEB 1991
- The motor driven pitching machine bears many similarities to the pneumatically powered pitching machine, the pneumatic pitching machine having been designed first. Both machines are marketed as portable pieces of equipment which automatically reload and throw. This makes them easy to transport and operate as they do not require an additional person to control the machine. The first striking similarity is the ball chute which stores the baseballs before they are loaded into the throwing arm. Just like the pneumatic machine, the chute for the motorized machine operates on the principle of gravity. For both machines, as the lever is pressed, a ball is released and driven by gravity down into the basket of the throwing arm.
- The machines are also similar in their use of springs. The pneumatic machine uses springs to return the arm to its loaded position. The motorized machine uses the springs to power the arm forward. While the two machines use springs for opposite purposes, they both depend upon the force of the springs to operate the machinery. The two machines are also powered by the same source. The pneumatic device claimed to be novel in its use of DC power to control the air compressor. This enables the machine to be used anywhere and not just near an AC power source. The motorized machine also makes use of a DC power source to control the motor.
- Under the decision made in the Hotchkiss case, the motorized machine would not be a patentable device. It makes use of many of the similar mechanisms on the pneumatic devices including the ball chute, springs, the throwing arm, and the DC power source. The difference between the two machines is that one is controlled by air pressure while the other is driven by a motorized mechanism. The Hotchkiss case determined that an invention is only patentable if it requires, “more ingenuity and skill…than were possessed by an ordinary mechanic acquainted with the business.” While the mechanism is an interesting device for throwing the ball, it is nothing that a regular mechanical engineer could not develop himself.
- Additionally, under the A&P case the motorized machine patent would be invalid as it makes use of many similar parts from the pneumatic machine. The new device uses all of the same parts besides the air compressor, choosing to power it mechanically instead of pneumatically. In the A&P case, Justice Jackson stated, “two and two have been added together, and still they make only four.” Similarly, the parts from the pneumatic machine have been rearranged to accomplish the same goal as the mechanical device.
- This new machine, however, would satisfy the non-obvious requirement of the Lyon case. If the motorized machine is more capable than the pneumatic machine, and it was not previously designed by any other engineer in this field, then it was not an obvious discovery. Otherwise, different companies would have already created the device. It thus satisfies the requirement for non-obviousness according to the Lyons case. The reason that this patent would be approved after Lyons is a result of the change in standards for what is obvious. In the Lyons case, it was observed that although many other companies had adopted a similar process or attempted the same process, no other individual was able to complete it as well as Lyons. As soon as he completed his invention, all of the other individuals quickly adopted his process. This proves that even though he only made a simple change, it was an important one. The enthusiasm of his peers shows that if they could have put it together like Lyons, then they would have. So then even though it was a simple improvement, it was an improvement that others had missed. Similarly, even if the mechanical machine is a simple and obvious addition in hindsight, it was overlooked by other designers or else they would have created it. It is a simple device, but it is a new and useful addition to the line of pitching machines.
- US Patent 408207: Spring Type Ball-Pitching Apparatus
- Issued 04 APR 1978
- The spring pitching machine was invented about ten years before the pneumatic machine. It is a far simpler design than the latter device. The primary component that the two share is the use of springs to control the throwing arm. The spring machine uses the spring to both launch the arm forward and recoil it back. The pneumatic machine only uses springs to bring the arm back to its original position. The pneumatic machine adds improvements by running the device on DC power, using compressed air to control the arm, and developing an automatic ball feed chute. It is an automatic machine that does not require that each ball be loaded individually, allowing the batter to hit multiple balls at a time. It is for these new developments that the pneumatic machine would be approved under the Hotchkiss case, the A&P case, and the Lyons case.
- The Hotchkiss case maintains that in order for the patent to be valid it must not include improvements that would be obvious to other individuals in the profession. One could not easily argue that the compressed air is an obvious improvement. The spring device is a simple apparatus. It would require an individual with some engineering savvy to develop a mechanism that uses compressed air to power the throwing arm. It is a novel and innovative design. It uses the springs in a different manner, and is entirely automatic. It makes several large strides from the spring device clearly showing innovation.
- The A&P case opposes patents that are just simple combinations of other inventions. It rules against patents that just have small changes from other designs. The pneumatic machine does include a similar pitching arm with similarly mounted springs as the spring apparatus. However, it also adds in the air compressor, and the automatic ball chute. The air compressor was not used in any other designs, nor was this specific ball chute design. These are new ideas added to a simple design from an older patent. It is an entirely different and vastly improved pitching machine. In this case, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts meaning that the A&P case would approve of the patent.
- The pneumatic machine satisfies the decisions of the Lyons case. The Lyons case developed a less strict interpretation of non-obvious from previous cases. If the machine satisfies non-obvious according to the Hotchkiss case, then it would seemingly satisfy it under the Lyons case. The pneumatic machine is a vast improvement over the spring apparatus. Having not been created by any other designer, it is not made up of obvious improvements. It is a valid patent.
Graham Analysis - 4 February 2011
- Argument for Non-Obviousness
- In determining the obviousness of a patent, the courts are directed to evaluate the prior art, ascertain the differences between the prior art and the patent in question, and consider the level of skill required to improve upon the prior art. There are also a number of secondary concerns such as failed attempts and need for the new product. Prior art includes an old model of the vibrating plow which was subject to excessive motion of the plow shank as well as undue stress and limited flexibility of the shank. In the prior art, a number of I-beams form the structure to which the vibrating shanks are mounted. The shank mechanism has a tendency to shake upon the I-beam as it is only attached by a screw driven through the base of the beam. This excessive bouncing could cause the shank to rotate about the beam, bending the frame of the plow. By securing the I-beam with a clamp, patent '798 prevents this bending of the frame, providing a more durable, more efficient plow.
- A second main difference between patent '798 and the prior art, specifically patent '811, is the location of the hinge around which the shank pivots. By having the hinge on the underside of the shank in patent '811, the shank is forced to bend around the pivot point. This limits the flexibility of the machine. The location of the hinge beneath the shank increases the moment about the pivot point, increasing the wear on the piece. Moving the hinge to the topside of the shank decreases the wear on the part and increases the flexibility. This improves the performance of the plow and increases its lifetime.
- These two additions to the plow greatly improve the performance of the vibrating plow. It requires innovation to integrate a way to affix the I-beam solidly to the shank in order to limit undesired motion. This has long been a difficulty for the farming community and the improvement has been well received. The new design meets a "long felt, but unsatisfied need." Due to this significant secondary consideration as well as the great improvement over prior art, the patent in question is non-obvious.
- Argument for violation of Section 103
- In both form and function, the patent in question, patent '798, mirrors that of patent '811. Both are designed to be vibrating plows capable of creating ridges in the soil as well as moving easily over obstructions. Both plows contain shanks connected by I-beams that vibrate about a hinge, driven by springs. The only differences between the two are the location of the hinge which functions as a pivot point and the clamp which connects the I-beam to the shank.
- The change of the pivot point from the topside of the shank to the underside is an obvious improvement which does not require a level of skill beyond that of an ordinary individual associated with the art. Anyone who possesses a knowledge of mechanics, or an intuitive understanding of engineering can determine that there is more flexibility and less wear when the hinge is connected to the top of the shank. This is not a significant enough improvement to merit a new patent in itself. It is a small improvement to the previously patented plow, patent '811.
- The second improvement is the clamp which connects the I-beam to the shank. While this is a worthwhile improvement, it is not a new invention. Patent '798 merely inverts the fastening device from patent 2,014,451. It has been shown previously that a patent cannot be a combination of old elements if it does not accomplish a new and innovative goal. The fastening device, although used to connect two different components, is still used to clamp down a material. The use of the fastening device in patent '798 does not advance the art. It is only an application of an old element to patent '811.
- Patent '798 does not satisfy the quality of non-obviousness which would render it a valid patent. It is merely an improvement upon patent '811. The new hinge position would be obvious to an individual with ordinary skill in the art. Additionally, patent '798 simply uses the clamp for its intended purpose to connect two materials together. It does nothing to advance the development of vibrating plows. It is non-obvious and, therefore, does not merit a patent.