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

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

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.

MR. JUSTICE BLATCHFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit in equity, brought November 6, 1882, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Massachusetts, by the Morley Sewing-Machine Company and the Morley Button-Sewing Machine Company against Charles B. Lancaster, for the alleged infringement of letters patent No. 236,350, granted January 4, 1881, to James H. Morley, E. S. Fay, and Henry E. Wilkins, on the invention of said Morley, on an application filed June 23, 1880, for an improvement in machines for sewing buttons on fabrics. The machine of the defendant is constructed in accordance with the description contained in letters patent No. 268,369, granted November 28, 1882, to Joseph Mathison, William D. Allen and C. B. Lancaster on the invention of said Mathison for improvements in machines for securing buttons to material on an application filed August 1, 1882.

The specification of the Morley patent says:

"My invention consists in mechanism for automatically sewing shank buttons onto fabrics, shoes, etc., and the objects of my invention are to form a double threaded stitch on the top side of the material being sewed upon, transversely to the direction of feed, and on the reverse side of the material two parallel lines of stitches at right angles to the first-named ones, to make alternately long and short stitches, and to so feed buttons to be sewed by said machines as to present them at the proper time and in the proper place to be operated upon."

The specification then describes, by reference to twenty-four figures of drawings, the mechanical means used by the patentee to perform the mechanical operations described. The specification them proceeds:

Page 129 U. S. 266

"Having thus described the machine and constructions set forth in the drawings, I wish it to be understood that the same is only one of different mechanisms which I have contemplated, and which may be effectually employed for carrying out the main feature of my invention, to-wit, the automatic mechanical sewing of buttons to a fabric. Thus, different means may be adopted for carrying the thread through the eye of the button into the fabric, as, for instance, passing the hooked needle through said eye to a position to seize the thread from the straight needle, or form a suitable carrier and then draw the loop down through the fabric to be secured beneath by a shuttle or needle thread, or the eye-pointed needle may be used in connection with a loop-spreader and shuttle for carrying a thread through the loop, a single thread or two threads being used. It will further be understood that wires may be sometimes substituted for threads, and that other feed mechanisms may be employed, the needles moving with, but not controlling, the fabric, as in the construction described."

There are 18 claims in the patent, only four of which are relied upon by the plaintiffs, namely, claims 1, 2, 8, and 13, which are as follows:

"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

Page 129 U. S. 267

to the sewing devices, and mechanism for operating said appliances and sewing devices, as set forth."

The defendant's machine is known as the Lancaster Machine.

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. In the button-feeding mechanism, there is a hopper containing the buttons in mass. The principal use of the machine is to sew buttons onto the uppers of buttoned boots, and the button designed to be used is one having a round ball affixed to a shank, which terminates in an eye. On the bottom of the hopper is a hopper valve, which picks out the buttons one by one and delivers them into an inclined trough. This trough has a V-shaped groove along its bottom midway between its sides, and the buttons enter the upper part of the trough with their shanks in all directions, and it becomes necessary to turn them over, so that the eyes will lie in the groove while the bodies of the buttons occupy the trough. The contrivance for accomplishing this consists of a flexible, corrugated strip of metal, lying over the top of the trough and oscillated by proper machinery, which, by contact with the bodies of the buttons, will roll them over so that their eyes will lie in the groove. After the buttons are thus arranged, they slide down the trough, being aided to do so by a jarring motion imparted to the latter. When they arrive at its lower end, which is bent so as to be nearly vertical, they lie with their heads toward the front of the machine -- that is, the side furthest from the driving pulley. In one modification of the machine, the buttons are held in the trough by a button wheel, which is mounted on a vertical axis and is provided with pockets, each capable of receiving a button, and admits of being intermittently revolved at proper times. This button wheel is used (1) to close the bottom of the trough; (2) to receive buttons into its pockets, and (3) by its own revolution to turn

Page 129 U. S. 268

the buttons around so that their eyes will lie toward the front of the machine. In order to prevent the buttons from falling out of the pockets, the button wheel rests upon a stationary table, which closes the bottoms of all of the pockets but one. When a button arrives over the notch in the table, it has been turned around, on a vertical axis, 180

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.