Haines v. McLaughlin
135 U.S. 584 (1890)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Haines v. McLaughlin, 135 U.S. 584 (1890)

Haines v. McLaughlin

No. 315

Argued May 1, 1890

Decided May 19, 1890

135 U.S. 584




The invention covered by the claim in letters patent No. 107,611, granted to James W. Haines on the 20th September, 1870, for an improvement in chutes for delivering timber, covers chutes, whether constructed with lapped joints or abutted joints, and was anticipated by several constructions for similar purposes described in the opinion, and the letters patent therefor are void.

A claim in letters patent cannot be enlarged by construction beyond a fair interpretation of its terms.

Several alleged errors of the court in its rulings and instructions examined and found to contain no error.

This was an action at law brought to recover damages for an alleged infringement of letters patent No. 107,611, bearing date September 20, 1870, and granted to James W. Haines, for an "improvement in chutes for delivering timber." The specification, claim, and drawings are as follows:

"Be it known that I, James W. Haines, of Genoa, in the County of Douglas and State of Nevada, have invented a new and improved chute for delivering timber from high mountains, and I do hereby declare that the following is a full, clear, and exact description thereof which will enable others skilled in the art to make and use the same, reference being had to the accompanying drawing forming part of this specification."

"Figure 1 represents a side view of my improved chute."

"Figure 2 is an end view of the same."

"Similar letters of reference indicate corresponding parts."

"This invention has for its object to furnish to the public an improved chute for facilitating the transportation of timber of all kinds from the tops or sides of mountains or other elevations, and consists in constructing a chute so as to present

Page 135 U. S. 585

a V form in cross-section, the same being arranged on an incline corresponding more or less to the surface of the ground over which it passes, and brought in connection with a spring or other water supply, to receive the water therefrom,"


and thus form a smooth canal throughout its entire length. Heretofore, chutes for this purpose have been constructed with flat, or nearly flat, bottoms, which, while sufficiently objectionable as requiring a greater quantity of water to insure equal rapidity in the transit of the timber, are far more so for another reason, viz., the log or piece of timber, more especially at points where the inclination of the chute is slight, is liable to be checked in its descent by friction

Page 135 U. S. 586

against the bottom and one side of the chute, and when thus situated, others may pass it, thus leaving it to be again set in motion by manual assistance, or other logs' striking it. The whole may become wedged together so as to form a total obstruction to the passage of succeeding logs, destroy the chute at that point or cause other serious injury, inconvenience, and, in any event, pecuniary loss.

"A, in the drawing, represents a wooden trough made of two boards, a and b, which are joined at an angle of about ninety degrees."

"This trough is supported by trestles or frames, B B, of suitable construction, and is built up on the side of a mountain, its upper end being connected with a brook, lake, stream, or spring, to receive a supply of running water, which may, if desired, be regulated by means of a suitable gate."

"The timber or wood to be transported downwardly is thrown into the trough, and carried down by the water in the same. A very rapid and convenient means of conveying wood is thus provided."

"Having thus described my invention, I claim as new, and desire to secure by letters patent --"

"the chute, A, of V form in cross-section, arranged on an incline in whole or in part, and adapted to receive a flow of water for the conveyance of timber, as set forth."

The defendants denied each and every allegation of the complaint separately and specifically, and set up other defenses. A jury trial was had which occupied several days and resulted in a verdict in favor of the defendants, upon which judgment was entered. A bill of exceptions was taken, and a writ of error sued out from this Court.

The plaintiff's evidence tended to show that in the fall of 1867 and the winter and spring of 1868, he cut a large amount of wood into lengths of four feet each on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, with the design of floating it out of the mountains. These logs were rolled down the sides of the canon upon which the trees had grown, and plaintiff built a square or rectangular flume, having bottom boards two feet wide and side boards eighteen inches wide. When he turned

Page 135 U. S. 587

the water into the flume and commenced putting in his wood, he found that the wood would run faster than the water, and that the lighter sticks would run faster than the heavier ones, jamming and choking up the flume. He then spread the upper edges of the side boards of the flume as far out as he could without breaking the nails at the bottom of the boards, and found that that afforded some relief. Then he took inch boards, twelve inches wide, nailed them together at an angle of 90

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