White v. Dunbar
119 U.S. 47 (1886)

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U.S. Supreme Court

White v. Dunbar, 119 U.S. 47 (1886)

White v. Dunbar

Argued October 29, November 1, 1886

Decided November 15, 1886

119 U.S. 47




The claim of the inventor in letters patent must be construed according to its terms, and when its import is plain, resort cannot be had to the context for the purpose of enlarging it.

A reissue which materially enlarges the claim in the original letters patent, and which was made five years after their issue, is held to be invalid.

This was a bill in equity to restrain infringement of letters patent. The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.

MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit on a reissued patent. The appellees obtained a patent dated June 20, 1876, for a method of preserving shrimps and other shellfish by placing them in a bag or sack made of cotton, muslin, or other textile fabric, and then sealing them up in a metallic can and subjecting them to a boiling process. In their specification, they declare that the object of placing the shrimp in the bag is to keep them from coming in direct contact with the can, and thus prevent their discoloration and loss of flavor. They describe the process as follows:

"The shell having been removed from the shrimp in the usual manner, the fish is thrown into salt water of about six degrees, and there remains for an hour, more or less, and from thence to kettles filled with water, and brought to a boiling heat, after which they are placed on dippers and cooled and thoroughly rinsed with fresh cold water, and from which, so

Page 119 U. S. 48

soon as thoroughly dripped, in a moist condition, they are placed in the sack B, the same having been previously arranged in the can A and without the addition of any salted or otherwise prepared liquid. So soon as the sack is filled, the mouth thereof being properly secured, the lid or head a is placed in position on the can A and immediately sealed."

"The cans are then subjected to a steam bath, or placed in kettles containing boiling water, and boiled for two hours at the highest temperature attainable, and which completes the process."

The claim is then stated as follows:

"What we claim as new, and desire to secure by letters patent, is"

"The herein-described method of preserving shrimps, etc., preventing their discoloration, which consists in placing textile fabric between the can and its contents, and then sealing the can, and subjecting the same to a boiling process, substantially as and for the purpose specified."

In April, 1880, Pecor, one of the appellants, together with one Bartlett, obtained a patent for another method of preserving shrimps by first lining the inside of the can with a coating of asphaltum cement, and then with paper coated with a solution of paraffine, or kindred substance. The can is then filled with shrimp, sealed up, and subjected to the boiling or steaming process, in the usual manner of canning vegetables and meats.

In April, 1881, the appellees surrendered their original patent, and applied for a reissue thereof, which was granted in December, 1881. In the new specification, they describe their process to consist, first, providing the can with a lining to prevent direct contact of the shrimps with the metal, and second, placing them in the lined can while they are in a dry or moist condition, and devoid of free liquid or gravy, sealing the can without adding any liquid to its contents, and cooking the contents of the can after sealing. They add that

"there is nothing arbitrary about the peculiar form and construction of the textile fabric lining, as other forms and arrangements might be substituted therefor,"

and, again, "B is the lining,

Page 119 U. S. 49

constructed preferably of cotton or muslin." The claim of the reissued patent is in the following words:

"What we claim as new, and desire to secure by letters patent, is --"

"As an improvement in the art of preserving shrimps in metal cans, the mode of preventing the discoloration of the shrimps, which consists in interposing between the metal can and the shrimps an enveloping material for the shrimps, which is not itself capable of discoloring the shrimps, and then sealing the can, and subjecting the same and its contents to a boiling process, substantially as described."

In March, 1882, the appellants commenced the canning of shrimps, and in their answer state that all the business of canning shrimps that they have ever done has been under the authority of the patent granted to Pecor and Bartlett. They further described the process used by them as follows:

"The common tin cans being ready for packing, three pieces of paper, previously boiled in paraffine wax, or coated with same, are cut and placed in the can, so that one piece covers the bottom, another piece the sides, and a third piece the top of the contents when the can is filled. The shrimps are then picked raw, then washed, and thoroughly cooked for about twenty minutes, until fit to eat. They are then placed in the cans, which are soldered, and then put into a steam retort without water, which is heated to 240

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