Lyon v. Bausch & Lomb (JWB)

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The Case

  • 1955 – District Court of New York – Bausch & Lomb optical (defendants) infringed upon patent of Lyon (plaintiff)
  • Patent held in District Court and Court of Appeals (2nd District)
  • The important questions are whether the invention had been disclosed in any earlier patent, or had been publicly used, before Lyon filed his application on November 17, 1942; and whether his contribution will support a patent
  • The Invention: process to make a film to coat binoculars, periscopes, and other ‘light-transmitting’ glass surfaces
    1. water and grease must be taken of the glass surface, via ‘preheating’ the glass in a vacuum
    2. coat the glass by vaporizing the ‘inorganic salt’ in the same vacuum in which the glass was ‘preheated’
      • the art never took Lyon’s second step, now a generally accepted to secure the optimum bond
    1. ‘postbake’ to add tenacity of the bond and ruggedness of the coating
  • Cartwright, the inventor of the prior art, disclosed this second step in a letter (1938) years before Lyon’s patent, and even discussed possibly patenting it
  • Cartwright sold lenses which underwent the process, but some (not all) used the second step. The question is whether this constitutes “public use”
    • Cartwright didn’t think the second step improved the process, and abandoned his research with the second step. He neither put the process to ‘public use’ nor was he the inventor.
  • The question becomes whether Lyon’s addition of the second step is worth a patent
    • “when it appeared, it supplanted the existing practice and occupied substantially the whole field. We do not see how any combination of evidence could more completely demonstrate that, simple as it was, the change had not been "obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art" — § 103”
  • Patent held, but no recoveries collected

History of Non-Obviousness

  • 1793 – second patent act – invention must be “new and useful”
  • 1850 – Hotchkiss v. Greenwood – "unless more ingenuity and skill in applying the old method" were necessary "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 a skillful mechanic, not that of the inventor."