Homework 2: Due Friday January 28

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Overview of Original Patent and Cited Patents

  • The invention I selected (from 1985) is a set of golf clubs that is more unified compared to other previous sets of golf clubs. According to the patent, the lofts, length of the clubs, and face progression (the change in shape of the club) are correlated and coordinated to be more user friendly. The main features of these clubs are that the center of gravity for each club is lower to the ground and more centered on the club face and the club heads for all clubs, including irons, are wider. The wider club heads make all the clubs look similar to woods. Woods are traditionally the easier clubs to hit for the average amateur player. The goal for this invention is to make the game easier and more enjoyable for the average player with a more unified set of clubs. [1]
  • The first cited patent, from 1924, also describes a set of clubs that was invented to make the game of golf easier for the average player. The intent with this invention was to create a more uniform set of clubs for the average player to use. Before this invention, the inventor states that a set of clubs could be comprised a very different mix of clubs. It would take an extensive amount of time to properly train to master the use of all of the different clubs. Therefore, it is nearly impossible for the average amateur player to play very well because there is not enough time in the day to devote to properly training with each club. This invention was a unified set of clubs that focused on the physical properties of the set. The term the inventor used was the length-weight balance. LW=C, where L=length of the club, W=weight of club, and C=constant. Longer clubs will weigh less, while shorter clubs will weigh more. The idea is that this equation will provide some kind of uniformity to the set of clubs. There is also a relationship defined for a proportional balance point throughout the entire set of clubs. [2]
  • The second cited patent, issued in 1975, describes another set of golf clubs invented to make the game easier for players. This time, the set of golf clubs became more uniform based on the characteristic of flexural rigidity. It was previously believed that it was necessary to have the longer clubs, like woods and low number irons to have more rigidity in the shaft than the shorter, higher-numbered irons. The inventor claims that he received better results actually making the longer clubs less rigid than the shorter clubs. He also said that the rigidity could be the same for all clubs. To account for uniform rigidity in spite of clubs that differ in weight and length, the inventor altered the thickness of the hollow shafts as well as layering the shafts throughout the club (i.e. the shafts were not of a uniform width throughout an entire club. It was common for the top of the shaft to be thicker than the bottom of the shaft by the clubhead. [3]

Analysis of Hotchkiss and A&P

In the Hotchkiss vs. Greenwood case, the new invention in question is a door knob that was merely made in a different material. While the new door knob could be created more cheaply than the previous door knobs on the market, it lacked non-obviousness. As cited in the case, "The knob was not new, nor the metallic shank and spindle, nor the dovetail form of the cavity in the knob, nor the means by which the metallic shank was securely fastened therein. Knobs had also been used made of clay" (Hotchkiss v. Greenwood). While there was a dissenting opinion arguing for a patent, the end result is that this "invention" was not patentable because it lacked non-obviousness. Someone with average working knowledge in the industry would be able to come up with this idea because nothing new was actually invented.

Comparing the patent from 1985 above with the other two cited patents from 1975 and 1924, the patent from 1985 is still valid under the ruling in Hotchkiss and Greenwood. While all three patents contain similar ideas, i.e. make the game simpler for amateur players by making a set of more uniformed golf clubs, they achieve their goals with very different ideas. The patent from 1975 tries to make the set of clubs more uniform by revolutionizing how club shafts were weighted and flexed. The patent from 1924, simply tried to make a set of clubs more uniform by using a mathematical relationship to weight the clubs proportionally to their length. In each case, golfers would benefit from feeling like each club in a set was extremely different from the next club. The 1985 patent created a uniform set of clubs by trying to make all of the clubheads look and feel similar. The other two patents did not involve creating the club head. For many years, it was accepted that woods and irons needed to look different to serve their different functions on the golf course, so it was not necessarily obvious that irons could be made to look more like woods so that they would be easier to hit. The exact shape of the new irons was unique so as not to look exactly like a wood.

In the A&P Tea Co. vs. Supermarket Corp, the invention in question is simply an addition to the original check-out counters used in supermarkets. The Supreme Court ruled that it did not meet the requirements for non-obviousness because it did not advance science. All this "invention" did was benefit the business by improving the check-out process by adding counter space to an original invention.

While the 1985 patent is not the creation of the golf club, it is the creation of a unique idea. The patent is for the club heads which are added on to a shaft. This patent is still valid under the ruling in the A&P case because this is an advancement in the science of golf clubs. Referencing the other two patents, no one before had attempted to make a golf iron with such a low center of gravity like a wood. This invention was not merely an addition to existing technology. It was a brand new concept to the world of golf.

Lyon v. Bausch & Lomb Analysis

35 USC 103 states: "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."

The ruling in the Lyon case stated that even though there were many attempts by people to create an effective non-reflective coating, the patent for this particular coating was valid because of the need in this field of study for this coating. The methods were very simple, but experts in the field had tried and failed to create an effective coating. Because there was a specific need for the coating and because those even having extraordinary skill in the field were unable to invent the coating, the final ruling was that this was a non-obvious invention.

Under 35 USC 103, I believe that the patent for a more uniform set of golf clubs by creating irons to have properties similar to woods is still valid. None of the references cited ever mentioned anything about altering the clubheads of golf clubs in order to make the set of clubs more uniform and thus easier to use for the golfer of average skill. While there was not necessarily a need for this type of technology, due to the fact that many people were able to play the game just fine with the industry "standard" technology, it was nonetheless revolutionary technology. I believe that the fact that there wasn't a pressing need for this kind of technology also makes it a non-obvious invention. Strictly examining the referenced patents, it does not appear that there was a race to alter the clubheads of irons to make them more user-friendly. It appears that it took someone with more than average skill in the art of clubmaking to create a golf club like this based on how old the game of golf is and when this invention was patented.