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MY Selected US Patent

  • Patent4817219 issued April 4, 1989
  • The Sitting Bath tub
  • I decided to pick this patent because I have recently obtained much interest in inventions that help disabled or handicaped people with their everyday activities. This Sitting Bath tub does just that for people in wheelchairs or people who have trouble with mobility on the lower half of their body. More details can be found here. [1]

Patent Law HW 1/28/11

  • Reference Patents used include:
    • Patent 2570053 Issued Oct. 2, 1951[2]
    • Patent 4202060 Issued May 13, 1980 [3]
  • Looking at a close description of the patent chosen, Patent 4817219 The Sitting Bathtub and comparing this patent to two reference patents, Patent 4202060 The Openable Bathtub and Patent 2570053 Walk in Bathtub we must look at the distinctive points made in both cases to decide whether or not the chosen patent would hold validity under these court case rulings.
  • First taking a look at the Hotchkiss v. Greenwood (1850) case the key ideas from this case were:
    • Substitution for simply a better material keeping all other design aspects the same does not warrant a patent
    • If the device took no more skill to construct than the skill of an ordinary mechanic or expert n the field the device does not warrant a patent
    • If a similar device, or devices similar except in material used, are sold currently or prior to the date the patent was obtained, the patent is not valid

The court sites the conditions upon which the patent would be valid as follows: “And upon the evidence being closed, the counsel for the plaintiffs prayed the court to instruct the jury that, although the clay knob, in the form in which it was patented, may have been before known and used, and also the shank and spindle by which it is attached may have been before known and used, yet if such shank and spindle had never before been attached in this mode to a knob of substantial article, and it required skill and invention to attach the same to a knob of this description, so that they would be firmly united, and make a strong and substantial article, and which, when thus made, would become an article much cheaper than the knobs made of metal or other materials, the patent was valid, and the plaintiffs would be entitled to recover.” According to the three conditions above for a patent and comparing the two previous patents to the current Sitting Bathtub the patent would be a valid patent. Not only do the materials for the 1989 patent differ from previous models, but the main mode of operation for the device differs. The Walk-in-Bathtub does not offer a specific sitting device for handicapped or disabled people, although it does have a similar hinged entry door that allows the user to enter the tub at floor level. The second previous patent, Open able Bathtub, is much more similar to the chosen patent and has a similar shape and look. However the key feature of the tub, the opening device, is significantly different. The previous patent uses a translating section to close the tub, while the newer patent uses a hinged side door to close the tub (making it easier for the user to close the tub while sitting inside). While the same ceramic type material for both tubs are used, the key door feature of the tub differs, which constitutes a patent for the newer invention in light of the previous patents. An interesting aspect about this device, pertaining to the second criteria according to the Hotchkiss case, is the fact that this new devices actually simplifies older methods of trying to provide the same service rather than trying to over-complicate the process. With a simple side hatched door that closes and uses hydrostatic pressure to seal the door completely to fill the tub, this devices has less parts than older devices and is much more simpler to operate. According to the Hotchkiss case, this device should be patentable.

  • Taking a look at the A&P case the most important aspects of the case that were debated about were:
    • Patents most hold the proper amount of innovation
    • If the new device or process is merely a combination of previous ones without any added skill to the process the patent is not valid

This criteria is a bit harder to decide upon. Everything that is created is a combination of previously known materials, so how are patentable objects distinguished? The Supreme Court states: The conjunction of known elements must contribute. When the whole in some way exceeds the sum of its parts then the object is patentable. In regards to the chosen patent compared to prior inventions this patent required more innovation than just combining said parts from previous similar devices together. With a unique handle to operate the device while sitting inside and a hinge mechanism for closing the door instead of rollers or a complicated automated system, this invention combines innovation with non-obviousness in a way that would warrant a patent according to the law back in 1850 and 1950.

  • Another issue that the Lyons case brings up is the problem with using or selling the item before the patent is granted. If such an action occurs, the patent is no longer valid. Article 35 Section 102 states specifically, “A patent may not be obtained though the invention is not identically disclosed or described as set forth in section 102 of this title, if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains.” In regards to the Lyons case, it was determined that other coatings very similar to the one patented had been created in experimental trials by a scientist working for the Navy. However these experimental trials were deemed to be abandoned by the inventor and full rights and privileges were given to the said patentee in a unanimous Supreme Court decision.
  • Reading through the case, I think that the chosen sitting bathtub would still be patentable according to newer patent laws stating reasons above about unique use and simplified operation of the device. There existed no abandonment of any inventions by previous patentees that could be found so that aspect of the Lyons case does not apply to this patent and previous similar patents. The non-obviousness requirement under Lyons would be satisfied because with a need for such an invention, no one before had quite figured out how to simplify such a device and make it as user friendly as the 1989 patent for the Sitting Bathtub.
  • Answering the question of why the issue of patentability might differ from the Hotchkiss case to the Lyons case is an issue solely based on more stringent requirements for a patent. In the Lyons case a judge uses the Hotchkiss case to point out the trivial quality of the case and is not happy that the Supreme Court had to bother with such cases. The requirements for patents have gotten more strict over the years to a) reduce the number of obvious patents and keep public knowledge broad and b) to reduce the number of court cases or make it easier for lower courts to concur on the right judgment for patent laws and reduce the amount of trivial patents that reach the supreme court.
  • Information about referenced previous similar patents was extremely helpful in better understanding how my chosen patent operates. This information was also interesting to link time periods and concepts together. The first reference of a patent from 1951 for the Walk-in-Bathtub provided many detailed pictures for a complicated automatic system for opening and closing the ground level tub. Interestingly enough this patent was the earliest patent referenced in the chosen patent and it provides the most complicated system. The description provided helps flush out the intricate sketches, but the system is still overly complicated in my opinion. The 1950s were perhaps the time when people started becoming aware of a need for handicapped assistance to conduct daily activities such as bathing.

The next referenced used was from 1980 and was a very similar design to the chosen patent from 1989. Innovation can really be seen if you compare the two patents side by side. While they may look almost identical from the sketches provided in the patents, these devices are quite different in how people interact with them and use them to assist them in everyday life. The openable bathtub provided a start for the sitting bathtub, showcasing the need for a simpler device which can be easily opened and closed by the user. The reason that the 1989 sitting bathtub is considered a patent in light of previous inventions is the fact that the chosen device improved the concept and did so in a non-obvious, innovative, better way. New materials simply weren’t used as a means for improvement like in the Hotchkiss case. And existing inventions were not simply combined together to make a “super product” as in the A&P case. This invention had unique qualities and features which would warrant it a patent according to 1890 patent law and in present patent law.

Patent Law HW 2/4/2011

  • Why the Graham Patent '798 is obvious: Not Patentable
    • It is clear that the said improved device, Patent 2,627,798 “Clamp for vibrating Shank Plows” is obvious in reference to 35 S. 103 of the U.S.C which states: “A patent may not be obtained though the invention is not identically disclosed or described as set forth in section 102 of this title, if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains.”
    • It can be justly argued that this improvement is nothing more than a combination of Graham’s old patent with an improved hinge that has been previously developed in similar patents (see Pfeifer and Glencoe Patents). First off, except for two elements of “stirrup and bolted connections of the shank to the hinge plate and the position of the shank,” Graham’s older ‘811 patent is identical to his ‘798 patent. These two improvements separately would not be patentable in light of previous art, mainly the Glencoe 3258076 patented adjustable spring clamp shank assembly which utilizes the same mechanics to focus wear along a plane rather than at a point. The only difference between the Glencoe device and the Graham ‘798 patent is the “mere shifting of the wear point to the heel of the ‘798 hinge plate from the stirrup of Glencoe.” In light of this fact, it is reasonable to conclude that the combination of two patented devices does not warrant a patent under the non-obvious clause.
    • To further stress the non-obviousness of the ‘798 patent let’s conduct a quick engineering analysis. It is common knowledge to mechanical engineering graduates that wear occurs at joints where parts are fastened together. To reduce wear on parts stronger materials for hinges and fasteners can be used or the mode at which these joints are attached can be modified to reduce stresses in the part. Obviously if there is a stress concentration at one joint (patent ‘811) rather than distributed along the base of a support (patent ‘798), there will be excessive wear at that joint. The Glencoe clamp and the Pfeiffer clamp both addressed this issue implementing a hinge plate or stirrup to distribute shock forces during plowing. It is obvious from a basic engineering standpoint how to fix this problem by simply adjusting the positioning of the I-beam structure and adding in a hinge to distribute the load from the plow. Even if Graham’s new device was able to bring greater flexibility and more reduced stress for the plowing device, Graham failed to urge before the Patent Office the greater flexing qualities of his ‘798 patent which he so heavily relied on in court. This difference in flex is what absorbs the tremendous forces of the shock of obstructions during plowing. Graham can claim that the prior arts of Pfeiffer and Glencoe sited do not achieve the flexibility capabilities of his ‘798 patent, but since he failed to stress this crucial difference in court his point falls on deaf ears.
    • In light of the above facts, I have to affirm the ruling of the Supreme Court which issued the Graham ‘798 patent invalid due to the non-obvious code from 35 S 103 of the U.S. Code.

  • Why the Graham Patent '798 is Non-obvious: Patentable
  • It is clear that the said improved device, Patent 2,627,798 “Clamp for vibrating Shank Plows” is not obvious to the general public or a person skilled in the art in reference to 35 S. 103 of the U.S. Code which states: “A patent may not be obtained though the invention is not identically disclosed or described as set forth in section 102 of this title, if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains.”
  • In the district court case Graham v. John Deere the defendants failed in their efforts to prove that the improved design for reducing wear on plow parts and increasing flexibility to absorb greater forces of shocks from obstructions in plowing was of obvious nature to any general person having a background in plowing of some type of mechanical engineering. A combination patent is warrantable if finished whole device exceeds the sum of the parts in ingenuity and desirability of a product. Comparing Graham’s hinge clamp to Glencoe’s and Pfeiffer’s clamps, the devices differ in structure and simplicity. Glencoe’s clamp uses merely the mechanics of a spring and stirrup to pull the rake arm up and down. Graham’s clamp uses an I-beam structure for support as well as a hinge mechanism that attaches to the spring in the back to pull the rake arm up and down. While the mechanics of the device are similar, Graham’s hinge integrates the I-beam supports with a hinge plate in a novel way which reduces forces on the rake dramatically.
  • Another point to take into consideration is that an invention doesn’t have to be a stroke of genius to be deemed patentable. Take for example the case of Adams vs. US where Adams created a water-activated, constant potential battery which would be fabricated and stored indefinitely without fluid in the cells. A long felt need for this device existed, and Adams used chemicals (magnesium and cuprous chloride) previously known to design his batteries. The Supreme Court ruled that the manner in which Adams combined the prior art elements deemed his work patentable. This too could be said of Graham’s device, where instead of a non-obvious chemical reaction is patented a non-obvious mechanical operation is patented. As the US code states: “Patentability shall not be negated by manner in which the invention was made.” A need for this device existed to reduce the wear on plowing devices and Graham’s improvements to his old ‘811 patent provided the user with a better mechanism to support the rake arms which would also absorb more force and see a decreased amount of wear over the product’s use.
  • The last and final point made will be about the Supreme Court’s knowledge in the said mechanical field. Just because Supreme Court said it was obvious doesn’t mean it was obvious to people in the field of agriculture or mechanical engineering. I could bring in a panel of 10 engineers, and not every one of them would come up with the same solution. I believe for this solution to be deemed “obvious” at least a majority (6/10) of expert witnesses in the field must be told the problem and then come up with Graham’s solution on their own, which I don’t believe is likely at all. Ingenuity and non-obvious ideas stem from trying to solve a problem many different ways and optimizing the solution. The idea to have the shank flex the entire length of the plate to absorb forces and reduce wear seems trivial after it has been suggested, but who is to say that this optimal solution would have been “obvious” out in the field?
  • I dissent the Supreme Court’s decision made about the Graham ‘798 patent on the basis that the defendant did not prove the obviousness of the clamp for the vibrating shank plow.