Mitros:Homework 2

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Patent References

Among the citations provided for my patent (invented by Shao Shin-Chin, see Mitros:Homework 1) there are two electronic oscillating fans.

The first patent is 2341220 (now referred to as 220). It is described as a "fan oscillator with motor carried clutch control". The patent consists of a motorized fan unit that is mounted on a base that allows the fan to rotate around a vertical axis. Unlike the fan in the patent I chose for homework 1, this fan is not intended to rotate about a horizontal axis, but rather remain at a 90 degree angle to its supporting stand. When it comes to the fan's oscillation about the vertical axis, the utilizes a gear system that can be engaged/disengaged to the power system that drives the rotation of the fan blades. When the gear system is disengaged the fan does not oscillate. When engaged, it rotates at a rate that corresponds to the speed at which the fan is rotating since both the fan blades and oscillation motion are being run off of the same motor. Therefore, the faster the fan blades are rotating, the faster the fan will oscillate.

The other is patent 2618434 (now referred to as 434). It is described as an "electric fan oscillating device". This fan is similar in structure to patent 220. However, this fan specifically addresses the problem that preexisting fans' rate of oscillation about the vertical axis was dependent upon the rate at which the fan blades were rotating because both motions were powered by a shared motor. This fan utilizes two separate motors to spin the fan blades and oscillate the fan about the vertical axis, therefore resulting in the same rate of oscillation for all blade speed settings.

For the sake of this assignment, there is a clear evolution of the design of the inventions starting with patent 220. Patent 434 appears to build off of the ideas set forth in 220, and subsequently Shin-Chin's patent builds off of ideas present in 434. Therefore, I will analyze each case by first comparing patent 434 to 220, and then Shin-Chin's patent to patent 434 rather than simply comparing the Shin-Chin patent to both 434 and 220.

Analysis In Light of Hotchkiss v. Greenwood

In Hotchkiss v. Greenwood the case revolved around the issue of a patent given to a ceramic knob of particular design and installation. Specifically, it was argued that the patent was simply an adaptation of other widely manufactured knobs simply made out of other materials and as such, the item is not novel enough to be patented. The court stated that "No one will pretend that a machine, made, in whole or in part, of materials better adapted to the purpose for which it is used than the materials of which the old one is constructed, and for that reason better and cheaper, can be distinguished from the old one, or, in the sense of the patent law, can entitle the manufacturer to a patent." In order to determine the patent's novelty the court gave a general definition of an invention's novelty declaring that if no more ingenuity and skill was necessary to construct the patented item or process in question than that which is possessed by an ordinary mechanic acquainted with the art, then the patent was void.

With this analysis in mind, it is difficult to imagine either patent 434 or Shin-Chin's patent being granted in light of patent 220. In comparing patent 434 to patent 220, the biggest distinction is patent 434's ability to oscillate about its vertical axis at a rate that is independent of the rotational velocity of the fan blades. The way this was achieved was by adding an additional motor to control the oscillation. When examining the difference between the two designs, I would imagine that an ordinary mechanic qualified in the art would be able to install a second motor to separate the gear trains that drive the fan blades and oscillation motion. All that 434 did was replace the more elaborate gear train required in patent 220 with two independent and simpler systems. This is parallel to the ideas present in Hotchkiss of making obvious improvements to achieve ultimately similar end results. Therefore, under the terms set forth in Hotchkiss I would think that a patent for 434 would not be awarded.

Moving on to comparisons between patent 434 and the Shin-Chin patent, I would also assume a patent would not be granted under the terms of Hotchkiss. Just as could be said when comparing 220 to 434, it would appear as if an ordinary mechanic in the art would be able to include the Shin-Chin patent's ability for the fan to also oscillate along a horizontal axis . Also, the Shin-Chin patent mentions that other fans built more recently than the two patents it has listed as citations are only able to rotate on the horizontal axis roughly plus or minus 20 degrees. However, the additional movement afforded in the Shin-Chin patent once again appears as if it is simply the work of the mechanic increasing the functionality/range of motion of the fan. Therefore, I would argue that the Shin-Chin patent would also have been denied under the terms of Hotchkiss.

Analysis In Light of A.&P. Tea Co v. Supermarket Corp.

This case came before the Supreme Court with lower courts ruling in favor of the validity of the patent in question. The reason for this included that the invention presented a "decidedly novel feature and constitutes a new and useful combination" as well as its "evidence of commercial success." Yet the Supreme Court decided to reverse these previous decisions. Although the court acknowledges that "the concept of invention is inherently elusive when applied to combination of old elements", it cites precedent stating that "The conjunction or concert of known elements must contribute something; only when the whole in some way exceeds the sum of its parts is the accumulation of old devices patentable." In this case the court determines that the patent "is wanting in any unusual or surprising consequences from the unification of the elements here concerned" and decides that the patent is not valid. The court then goes on to say bothering to provide patents to such trivial "inventions" as presented in this case is missing the point of patent law. Patents are intended to be given to inventions that make distinctive contributions to scientific knowledge. Minor improvements in a previous invention's functionality and operation can hardly constitute something that should be considered equally unique and patentable.

Just as with the Hotchkiss case, I would assume patents would not have been awarded to 434 and the Shin-Chin patent due to the nature of these inventions relative to patent 220. In fact, the minor alterations made in these patents seem very similar in nature to the minor changes made to the design in question in the A.&P. case. In comparing 220 to 434 and then Shin-Chin's patent to 434, the only differences are minor improvements in functionality. In both cases neither subsequent patent can be seen as resulting in "unusual or surprising consequences from the unification of the elements concerned". Furthermore, the inclusion of an extra degree of freedom or independent rates of motion can hardly be seen as making distinctive contributions to scientific knowledge. At the end of the case document, the court lists a number of cases it has heard in the past that it considers to have been trivial attempts to extend monopolies to the simplest of devices. It would be hard to argue against the Shin-Chin patent and patent 430 being anything other than the same situation.

Analysis in Light of Lyon v. Bausch & Lomb

In Lyon v. Bausch & Lomb, the court makes its ruling in light of the recent passing of 35 USC 103 which focuses on the idea of non-obviousness. In his ruling Justice Hand goes on to expand upon the groundwork laid out in Hotchkiss v. Greenwood that an invention require more ingenuity and skill to construct than that possessed by an ordinary mechanic acquainted with the art in question. Hand notes that in the Lyon case, the most competent workers in the field had a long need for the patented invention. These same individuals had attempted to derive a similar invention but none were successful. And once the invention had been revealed, it "supplanted the existing practice and occupied substantially the entire field." As such, the invention was not "obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art." These criteria can be seen as elements that help to qualify an invention as non-obvious. It was these criteria that the court used to guide its verdict in Lyon case.

Examining the previous patents in light of this interpretation of non-obviousness it becomes possible to argue for the validity of at least the Shin-Chin patent. In the Shin-Chin patent, it claims that the invention solves the problem of having a fan that can tilt back and forth within a reasonable range of motion during normal use but when desired, can be tilted even further in order to achieve a collapsed position for use during storage or shipping. Preassembled fans tend to take up a lot of volume and therefore require larger packaging. At the same time, fans that arrive unassembled to the end user can sometimes create difficulties for the user in assembling the fan. These issues have been addressed with the solution proposed in the Shin-Chin patent. In light of non-obviousness, this could be a justifiable defense of the patent. It solves a problem not addressed in older fans (an art that has been long established) such as in patent 434 which would be bulkier during shipping and storage. In this situation it seems tough to believe that this had necesarily been a problem that had long stumped those knowledgeable in the art. However, the patent provides a solution to a problem that had not previously been as completely addressed and could provide potential benefits for its manufacturer. The problems of requiring bulky packaging or user assembly had been directly addressed with a reasonable solution. Hence its ability to be justified under the ideas of non-obviousness versus those set forth in Hotchkiss and A.&P.

Examining the comparison between patent 220 and 434 with respect to the ruling in Lyon, I still would find it tough to justify awarding a patent to 434 in light of 220 however. Making the rate of oscillation and rotation of the fan blade independent of each other hardly seems like a problem that long eluded individuals skilled in the art, but rather, just the result of inevitable increases in technology. I would imagine the inventors of 220 knew a secondary motor would be the ideal solution to the problem. However, for some reason, either because the motors of the day were still too bulky, expensive, or some other limiting factor, utilizing only one motor made the most sense at the time. It is hard for me to justify the second motor in 434 as non-obvious.