Graham v. John Deere, 383 U.S. 1 (1966) Notes

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  • Non-obviousness clarified
  • Argued October 14, 1965. Decided February 21, 1966

Petitioner: Graham - sues John Deere for patent infringement

Device: designed to absorb shock from plow shanks in rocky soil to prevent damage to the plow

  • 1955 - 5th circuit says valid - "old result in a cheaper and otherwise more advantageous way."
  • 1966 - 8th circuit says invalid - no new result in the combination

Held: The patents do not meet the test of the "nonobvious" nature of the "subject matter sought to be patented" to a person having ordinary skill in the pertinent art, set forth in 103 of the Patent Act of 1952, and are therefore invalid

Basically saying there isn't enough new here that wouldn't be obvious to ordinary-skilled worker in art to warrant patent.

1952 Act was intended to codify judicial precedents embracing the principle long ago [383 U.S. 1, 4] announced by this Court in Hotchkiss v. Greenwood

2 cases under consideration:

  • "Clamp for vibrating Shank Plows."
  • finger-operated sprayer with a "hold-down" cap

goes into history of patent law; Jefferson - no natural right to intellectual property, purpose of patent system is to encourage innovation, bring out new ideas, reward ppl for it. only for really new ideas, nothing trivial, obvious, etc.

  • "the things which are worth to the public the embarrassment [383 U.S. 1, 11] of an exclusive patent,"

Comparing old and new

  • 1851 in Hotchkiss v. Greenwood - precedent for new code

"[U]nless more ingenuity and skill . . . were required . . . than were possessed by an ordinary mechanic acquainted with the business, there was an absence of that degree of skill and ingenuity which constitute essential elements of every invention. In other words, the improvement is the work of the skilful mechanic, not that of the inventor." At p. 267.

  • need to COMPARE patent app with prior skill in art

"Section 103, An invention which has been made, and which is new in the sense that the same thing has not been made before, may still not be patentable if the difference between the new thing and what was known before is not considered sufficiently great to warrant a patent. It refers to the difference between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art, meaning what was known before as described in section 102. If this difference is such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time to a person skilled in the art, then the subject matter cannot be patented.

  • last sentence of S 103 abolishes idea that patent requires a flash of genius
  • some ppl think its a way of changing level of patentability; but they say no, its just codifying what was already ruled in Hotchkiss


  • determine scope of prior art
  • differences btwn that and claims
  • determine level of ordinary skill in art
    • judge obviousness based on these things

secondary considerations can add relevancy

stress that its not adding strictness, but patent office needs to apply S 103 to be more efficient.

[VI.] - EG analysis

A. John Deere Plow

spring clamp basically prevents damage to shanks by providing shocks for when you run over rocks; key component is hinge

  • 1950- Graham gets 811 patent for spring clamp
    • also makes modification and files for new patent
  • 1953- Graham gets 798 patent for modification (the one in question)
    • Graham says companies infringed upon 798 patent

Prior Art

  • District Court and the Court of Appeals found that the prior art "as a whole in one form or another contains all of the mechanical elements of the 798 Patent."
  • Differences btwn 811 and 798:
    • stirrup and the bolted connection of the shank to the hinge plate do not appear in '811
    • position of the shank is reversed, being placed in patent '811 above the hinge plate, sandwiched between it and the upper plate

Graham says the differences are enough to be non-obvious in terms of prior art; court says no, even if they weren't part of prior art, still not enough to validate patent. can compare to Glencoe, basically same thing

B. Chemical Sprayer

also obvious based on prior art...