EB: US v. ADAMS, 383 U.S. 39 (1966)

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  • Court of Claims held valid Adams's patent for a wet battery
  • Adams issued a patent in 1943 for a "nonrechargeable...electric battery"
    • Battery comprised of two electrodes: one of magnesium, the other of cuprous chloride
    • The electrolyte (battery fluid) used is water (salt or fresh, does not need to be distilled)
  • Less than a month after filing for the patent (1941) Adams brought his discovery to the Army and Navy
    • Signal Corps scientists did not believe the battery was workable
    • By 1943, the Signal Corps changed their minds, concluding it was viable - they then entered into contracts with battery companies to produce the battery
    • Government did not notify Adams of its changed views nor of the use to which it was putting his device


  • Adams sued the government for infringement and breach of an implied contract


  • Adams patent is valid


  • Prior Art
    • Marie Davy cell (1860): ammonium chloride electrolyte - seems to have been capable of working with water, though
    • Wood patent (1928): no use of cuprous chloride, no indication that it can be water powered
    • Wensky patent (1891): cuprous chloride used, no magnesium or water-power potential
    • Skrivanoff patent (1880): uses magnesium, but has other electrolyte - Adams tried this one, but it caused a fire
  • Court rules that "the fact that the Adams battery is water-activated sets his device apart from the prior art"
  • Also, court says Adams invention is more than just a subsitution of magnesium and cuprous chloride for normal battery components because if it were just a substitution than it would have "equivalent operating characteristics"- but, Adams battery performs superior to normal batteries
  • Court rules that Adams battery was nonobvious
    • Combining as Adams did was unexpected in the art - it ignored two things generally accepted in prior art (1)open circuit batteries are not practical - ones that continue to run (2) water-activated batteries were previously only successful with electrolytes detrimental to the use of magnesium
      • The fact that Adams saw beyond these prior art standards makes the invention nonobvious