Tennant Case 4: Lyon v. Bausch & Lomb Optical Co. (1955)

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This is a decision handed down by the Second Circuit of the U.S. Appellate Court. Dean A. Lyon had filed a patent for a coating process which involved the vaporization of various chemical compounds. He filed suit against the defendant, Bausch & Lomb, who claimed that his descriptions of the compounds involved were vague. In addition, the defendant claimed that the plaintiff did not properly disclose all processes and substances protected by the patent. The defendant finally claimed that the patent confused process and product, a claim the court found to be inherently unbelievable.

The matter here is the same as discussed in other court cases.[1] Were the contributions of Mr. Lyon discussed in prior art, and if so, does his work constitute a promotion of science and the useful arts? While the improvements proposed by Mr. Lyon were of a different nature than many other previous yet similar patents, there was one matter of prior art which was of interest and pertinence to the patentability of his efforts.

Cartwright and Turner took out three patents that were much more similar to Lyon's than the others. In particular, Cartwright was considered an expert in this method of coating, and he conducted many experiments and studies which provided a scientific description of Lyon's later efforts. Lyon added another step to Cartwright's method, which provided the optimal bond conditions for coating the glass containers. Cartwright wrote a series of letters to Hewlett, a scientist at General Electric, detailing the process and its potential to develop this intimate bond. Hewlett himself produced a number of such bonded glasswares, although he eventually abandoned the process. Cartwright, however, continued experimenting with the method; however, he eventually seemed to have abandoned the concept as not useful or worth pursuing. While his method produced some wares which were sold, the items sold would not necessarily evince the method used to produce them; thus, the art was not considered part of the public domain. In addition, because Cartwright abandoned his research (despite indicating that he was considering patenting the idea), he was not considered to be a prior inventor to Lyon.

The ruling further improved on the Hotchkiss v. Greenwood decision by saying that improvements must demonstrate more ingenuity than an average mechanic with an average knowledge of the subject; in other words, the combination must be nonobvious to someone well versed in the art. However, the ruling stressed that legislatures, who had been criticized in earlier statements such as the Supermarket Corp. ruling as being too willing to grant patents, must be free to follow the fundamental rules of the law without the waters getting muddies by subsequent court decisions.

Notes

  1. Chiefly, Hotchkiss v. Greenwood [1] and A. & P. Tea Co. v. Supermarket Corp. [2]