Homework 3 - Analysis of Graham Patent for Obviousness - Due 2/4
The patent under analysis here is a spring clamp which allows plow shanks to move upwards when they encounter an impediment in the soil, such as a rock, without being damaged. With regards to two other patents, one by the same inventor, Graham, which discloses a vibrating plow shank that prepares the soil for seeding more effectively, and another by Pfeifer which discloses a bolt-like device for securely fastening sheet metal.
Argument for invalid patent
With regards to the two instances of prior art mentioned above, it can be clearly demonstrated the the patent in question here would be considered obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the related art and therefore the patent granted to Graham would be invalid. After thorough reading of the patents involved in this analysis, the differences between the two Graham patents are effectively summed up in the case Graham v. John Deere:
(1) the stirrup and the bolted connection of the shank to the hinge plate do not appear in '811; and (2) the position of the shank is reversed, being placed in patent '811 above the hinge plate, sandwiched between it and the upper plate.
However, neither of these features can be considered "inventive" under the stipulations of section 103. These two features mainly serve to solve the problem with Graham's early patent where the shank was vibrating against the hinge plate causing wear. Graham was aware of this potential issue with the first patent as he referred to the motion of shank in the patent document. The addition of the stirrup, as well as the more secure location of the shank between the hinge plates served to secure the shank in such a manner that it would not move as in the previous arrangement, and a spring system was added to recoil the shank in the presence of an obstruction. Neither of these features can be considered non-obvious because any person with basic mechanical knowledge would recognize that the most effective way to prevent one piece of machinery from causing wear to another would be to secure the movable piece better. This fact alone, however, does not render the invention obvious; although a solution may be obvious, it is possible that the process to achieve this solution require more than ordinary skill. However, that is not the case here because the bolt Graham used to secure the shank between the two hinge plates was based largely on the bolting method disclosed in the Pfeifer patent. The Graham patent must be ruled invalid because neither the improvement to the prior Graham patent nor the mechanics resulting in this improvement require more skill than possessed by a person ordinarily skilled in the related art.
Argument for valid patent
Under the specifications of non-obviousness laid forth in section 103, the '798 Graham patent is clearly valid with regards to the prior art of the '811 Graham patent and the Pfeifer patent referenced in the patent application. The '798 patent was designed with the intent to solve a problem with the '811 patent which caused the shank to wobble and fishtail when the soil was uneven or rocky and over time led to noticeable wear on the upper hinge plate. Graham was aware of the movement of the shank when filing his first patent as he mentioned its "fishtailing" several times in the document, leading one to believe that if the solution he eventually arrived at had been obvious he would have just put the additional features in place in the first patent instead of taking several years to develop an appropriate structure as designated in the '798 patent. In order to reduce the wear, Graham had to entirely restructure the hinge portion of the plow to place the shank below both hinge plates instead of in between. This is an action many inventors may have been deterred from because this required entirely new forms of fastening the shank other than sandwiching it between the plates. In order to allow the shank enough freedom to move to withstand soil imperfections as well as keep the shank from moving too much against the plate, Graham had to design a complex mechanical system with a stirrup to guide the shank (a feature not even present in the prior patent) and a bolt to hold the shank flush with the hinge plate. While the bolt was similar in structure to that disclosed in the Pfeifer patent, the prior art was a bold designed to fasten mostly different pieces of sheet metal together in structures that were almost exclusively stationary. All of these features which together worked to improve to design of the plow to prevent damage to any of its components required more skill and knowledge of the mechanics of the plow system than it can be expected a person of ordinary skill in the art would know. With these instance of prior art in mind, it is evident that the patent Granted to Graham for the clamp is valid.