Homework 2 - Due Friday, January 28
Description of Original Patent and References
The patent I chose by John Postol (4786371) is a basketball return system mounted to the back of a backboard and uses a net-carrying frame positioned under the the backboard/hoop to catch a basketball and return it to the shooter. The frame is foldable such that the entire apparatus can be folded and stored underneath the backboard.
Postol's patent makes reference to JFree Throw Basketball Return(3917263) by William Wiley. It is another basketball return system implemented by use of an inverted truncated conical frame that is placed underneath the basketball rim. The opening initially leads to a chute perpendicular to the ground which eventually levels out to be parallel to the ground. The frame sits upon a set of wheels for easy mobility of the device. Beneath the chute is a leg brace and a rack for storing spare basketballs. The entire frame/chute acts as a guide for the basketball which is returned to the player at the free throw line.
Postol's backboard basketball retriever also makes reference to the Ball Recovery System (4291885) by Robert Cohen. This is a modified basketball game where the user shoots a smaller sized ball. The ball is returned to the shooter through the use of a net attached to the backboard at one end and to the users waist at the other. An alternative to this uses balls with an adhesive such that they stick to the backboard, with a layer of netting between the backboard and the ball. When the user pulls on the net, the ball frees itself from the backboard and rolls down the net to the awaiting user.
Analysis under Hotchkiss v. Greenwood
Under Hotchkiss v. Greenwood, 52 U.S. 11 (1850), an improvement which consists solely of a change in material in order to improve functionality cannot be the subject of a patent. Hotchkiss showed that if no other skill or ingenuity was needed beyond that which an ordinary mechanic acquainted with the business might have, then the patent is void. When comparing 4786371 with 3917263, it is evident that my patent remains patentable under the analysis of Hotchkiss. Building a chute of metal requires a different ingenuity then simply placing a net beneath the rim of a basketball. The chute needs to be constructed in such a way that the basketball does not become stuck while rolling through the apparatus, nor lose momentum and fail to leave the chute and return to the player. The net on the other hand needs to be kept taught enough such that the basketball does not simply land in the net and become stuck. Additionally, the use of a net allows for a wider "entry point", meaning the ball can still be returned to the shooter even if it bounces long.
The ball recovery system by Cohen (4291885) is similar to that of Postol in that it makes use of a net to return the basketball to a person lying in bed or within a wheelchair. However, instead of using a system of supporting frames, the bottom of the net is instead tied around the waste of the user. Postol's use of a frame is enough in this instance to differentiate between the two systems under the rule of Hotchkiss. The main retrieval portion portion of each system is still the net. However, the use of telescoping frames allows for a serious improvement in functionality. The system is standalone (doesn't need to be attached to a person), and can be manipulated to return the ball to a different area.
A. & P. Tea Co. v. Supermarket Corp. sets as precedent the notion that the combination of known elements must in some way exceed the sum of its part in order to become patentable. Basketball return systems had been in use for quite some time when John Postol developed his idea for a new backboard basketball retriever. In his creation, Postol used a return net mounted on a frame made up of telescoping supports. The combination of all these factors allows for a system that is easily retractable. The frame contains a pivot point which allows the entire apparatus to be folded up and stored beneath the backboard. The use of telescoping supports in conjunction with a flexible net allows for the apparatus to be laterally extended, or for the lower end legs to be shortened or made taller so that the entire return structure is placed at a different height. This represents a large improvement over previous return systems which were much more rigid and couldn't be easily manipulated to return the ball in different ways or be stored as easily. The improvements in function by combining these known elements allow this system to be patentable under A. & P. Tea Co. v. Supermarket Corp.