Morley Sewing Machine Co. v. Lancaster
129 U.S. 263 (1889)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Morley Sewing Machine Co. v. Lancaster, 129 U.S. 263 (1889)

Morley Sewing Machine Company v. Lancaster

No. 165

Argued January 11, 1889

Decided February 4, 1889

129 U.S. 263

Syllabus

Claims 1, 2, 8 and 13 of letters patent No. 236,350, granted January 4, 1881, to James H. Money, E. S. Fay and Henry E. Wilkins, on the invention of said Morley for an improvement in machines for sewing buttons on fabrics, namely,

"1. The combination, in a machine for sewing shank buttons to fabrics, of button feeding mechanism, appliances for passing a thread through the eye of the buttons and locking the loop to the fabric, and feeding mechanism, substantially as set forth."

"2. The combination, in a machine for sewing shank buttons to fabrics, of a needle and operating mechanism, appliances for bringing the buttons successively to positions to permit the needle to pass through the eye of each button, and means for locking the loop of thread carried by the needle to secure the button to the fabric, substantially as set forth."

"8. The combination, in a machine for sewing buttons to fabrics, of button feeding and sewing appliances, substantially as set forth, and feeding appliances and operating mechanism whereby the feeding devices are moved alternately different distances to alternate short button stitches with long stitches between the buttons, as specified."

"13. The combination, with button-sewing appliances, of a trough, appliances for carrying the buttons successively from the trough to the sewing devices, and mechanism for operating said appliances and sewing devices, as set forth,"

are valid.

The Morley machine contains and is made up of three main groups of instrumentalities: (1) mechanism for holding the buttons in mass, and delivering them separately, in proper position, over the fabric, so that they may be attached to it by the sewing and stitching mechanism; (2) the stitching mechanism; (3) the mechanism for feeding the fabric along, so as to space the stitches and consequently the buttons when sewed on.

A description given of the devices used by Morley, which make up the three mechanisms, and of those used in the alleged infringing machine (the Lancaster machine) and making up the same three mechanisms.

The Morley machine was the first one which accomplished the result of automatically separating buttons which have a shank from a mass of the same, conveying them in order to a position where they can be selected by the machine one after another and, by sewing mechanism, coupled with suitable mechanism for feeding the fabric, be sewed thereto at prescribed suitable distances apart from each other.

No machine existing prior to Money's is shown to have accomplished the operation of turning a shank button the head of which is heavier

Page 129 U. S. 264

than its shank and eye combined, into such a position drat a plane passing through its eye shall be perpendicular to a plane passing through the long axis of the sewing needle, so as to insure the passage of the needle through the eye.

The Lancaster machine infringes the Morley patent, although there are certain specific differences between the button feeding mechanisms in the two machines and also certain specific differences between their sewing mechanisms.

Morley, having been the first person who succeeded in producing an automatic machine for sewing buttons of the kind in question upon fabrics, is entitled to a liberal construction of the claims of his patent.

Where an invention is one of a primary character, and the mechanical functions performed by the machine are as a whole entirely new, all subsequent machines which employ substantially the same means to accomplish the same result are infringements, although the subsequent machine may contain improvements in the separate mechanisms which go to make up the machine.

Morley having been the first inventor of an automatic button-sewing machine by uniting in one organization mechanism for feeding buttons from a mass and delivering them one by one to sewing mechanism and to the fabric to which they are to be secured, and sewing mechanism for passing a thread through the eye of the button, and securing it to the fabric, and feeding mechanism for moving the fabric the required distances to space the buttons, another machine is an infringement in which such three sets of mechanism are combined, provided each mechanism, individually considered, is a proper equivalent for the corresponding mechanism in the Morley patent, and it makes no difference that in the infringing machine, the button feeding mechanism is more simple and the sewing mechanism and the mechanism for feeding the fabric are different in mechanical construction, so long as they perform each the same function as the corresponding mechanism in the Morley machine in substantially the same way, and are combined to produce the same result.

The defendant employs, for the purposes of his machine, known devices which, in mechanics, were recognized as proper substitutes for the devices used by Morley, to effect the same results. In this sense the mechanical devices used by the defendant are known substitutes or equivalents for those employed in the Morley machine to effect the same results, and this is the proper meaning of the term "known equivalent" in reference to a pioneer machine such as that of Morley. Otherwise a difference in the particular devices used to accomplish a particular result in such a machine would always enable a defendant to escape the charge of infringement, provided such devices were new with the defendant in such a machine because, as no machine for accomplishing the result existed before that of the plaintiff, the particular device alleged to avoid infringement could not have existed or been known in such a machine prior to the plaintiff's invention.

Page 129 U. S. 265

In equity for the infringement of letters patent. Decree dismissing the bill, from which the complainants appealed. The case is stated in the opinion.

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