A. & P. Tea Co. v. Supermarket Corp. (JWB)

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The Case

  • 1950 – invention of a cashier's counter equipped with a three-sided frame, or rack, with no top or bottom, which, which pushed or pulled, will move groceries deposited within it by a customer to the checking clerk and leave them there when it is pushed back to repeat the operation
  • If valid invention, then the patent is infringed
  • District Court – nothing was new except ‘the conception of a counter with an extension to receive a bottomless self-unloading tray with which to push the contents of the tray in front of the cashier was a decidedly novel feature and constitutes a new and useful combination'
  • Court of Appeals – affirmed

Supreme Court

  • Reversed because
    1. the extension is not mentioned in the patent claims, except in construction details
    2. “were we to treat the extension as adequately disclosed, it would not amount to an invention. We need not go so far as to say that invention never can reside in mere change of dimensions of an old device, but certainly it cannot be found in mere elongation of a merchant's counter – a contrivance which, time out of mind, has been of whatever length suited the merchant's needs”
    3. if it was patentable, it would have been invalid because it included old inventions (and not in a new patentable combination)
    • ‘combination’ implies the presence of invention, ‘aggregation’ implies absence of invention
    • Neither court below has made any finding that old elements which made up this device perform any additional or different function in the combination than they perform out of it