Tilghman v. Proctor
102 U.S. 707

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U.S. Supreme Court

Tilghman v. Proctor, 102 U.S. 707 (1880)

Tilghman v. Proctor

102 U.S. 707




1. Letters patent for a process, irrespective of the particular mode or form of apparatus for carrying it into effect, are admissible under the patent laws of the United States.

2. To sustain such letters, the patentee should be the first and original inventor of the process and claim it in them. If the means of carrying it out are not obvious to ordinary mechanics skilled in the art, his specification should describe some mode of carrying it out which will produce a useful result.

3. A party who subsequently discovers a new mode of carrying out a patented process and obtains letters patent therefor is not entitled to use the process without the consent of the patentee thereof.

4. Mitchell v. Tilghman, 19 Wall. 287, reviewed and overruled, and the letters patent No. 11,768, granted Oct. 3, 1854, to Richard A. Tilghman and subsequently renewed and extended, relating to the manufacture of fat acids, sustained as letters for a process.

5. O'Reilly v. Morse, 15 How. 62, and Neilson v. Thompson, Web.P.C. 276, commented upon and explained.

This is a suit in equity brought by Richard A. Tilghman against William Proctor, James Gamble, W. A. Proctor, James N.

Page 102 U. S. 708

Gamble, and George H. Proctor, complaining of their infringement of letters patent No. 11,766, granted to him, bearing date Oct. 3, 1854, and subsequently renewed and extended, for a process for obtaining free fat acids and glycerine from fatty bodies. The answer denies the validity of the letters and the alleged infringement of them. On a final hearing upon the pleadings and proofs, the bill was dismissed, and he appealed. The case is fully stated in the opinion of the Court.

MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves a consideration of the same patent which was the subject of litigation in the case of Mitchell v. Tilghman, reported in 19th Wallace 287. The evidence in the present case, which is quite an unwieldy mass, is much the same as in that, being supplemented, however, by the testimony of the patentee respecting the nature of his original experiments and the practicability of using profitably the coil apparatus described in the patent, together with certain exhibits relating to the novelty of the alleged invention. Upon the renewed consideration which has been given to the subject, the Court is unanimously of opinion, contrary to the decision in the Mitchell case, that the patent of Tilghman must be sustained as a patent for a process, and not merely for the particular mode of applying and using the process pointed out in the specification, and that the defendants have infringed it by the processes used by them.

The patent in question relates to the treatment of fats and oils, and is for a process of separating their component parts so as to render them better adapted to the uses of the arts. It was discovered by Chevreul, an eminent French chemist, as early as 1813, that ordinary fat, tallow, and oil are regular chemical compounds, consisting of a base which has been termed glycerine, and of different acids, termed generally fat acids, but specifically, stearic, margaric, and oleic acids. These acids, in combination severally with glycerine, form stearine, margarine, and oleine. They are found in different

Page 102 U. S. 709

proportions in the various neutral fats and oils, stearine predominating in some, margarine in others, and oleine in others. When separated from their base (glycerine), they take up an equivalent of water, and are called free fat acids. In this state they are in a condition for being utilized in the arts. The stearic and margaric acids form a whitish, semi-transparent, hard substance, resembling spermaceti, which is manufactured into candles. They are separated from the oleic acid, which is a thin oily fluid, by hydrostatic or other powerful pressure, the oleine being used for manufacturing soap and other purposes. The base, glycerine, when purified, has come to be quite a desirable article for many uses.

The complainant's patent is dated the third day of October, 1854, and relates back to the ninth day of January of that year, being the date of an English patent granted to the patentee for the same invention. It has but single claim, the words of which are as follows:

"Having now described the nature of my said invention and the manner of performing the same, I hereby declare that I claim as of my invention the manufacturing of fat acids and glycerine from fatty bodies by the action of water at a high temperature and pressure."

In the case of Mitchell, the majority of the Court was of opinion that in the application of the process thus claimed, the patentee was confined to the method of using the process particularly pointed out in the specification, and as by that it was proposed to produce a very rapid separation of the fatty elements by the use of a high degree of heat, the operation being effected in the space of ten minutes by forcing the fat, mixed with water, through a long coil of strong iron tube passing through an oven or furnace where it was subjected to a temperature equal to that of melting lead, or 612

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