Topliff v. Topliff
145 U.S. 156 (1892)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Topliff v. Topliff, 145 U.S. 156 (1892)

Topliff v. Topliff

Nos. 220, 277

Argued April 5, 1892

Decided May 2, 1892

145 U.S. 156

Syllabus

Letters patent No. 108,085, issued October 11, 1870, to John B. Augur for an improvement for gearing in wagons was not anticipated by the invention patented to C. C. Stringfellow and D. W. Surles, by letters patent No. 31,134, dated January 15, 1861, and are valid, so far as that invention is concerned.

It is not sufficient, in order to constitute an anticipation of a patented invention, that the device relied upon might, by modification, be made to accomplish the function performed by that invention, if it were not designed by its maker, nor adapted, nor actually used for the performance of such function. .

In view of the extensive use to which the invention secured to John H. Topliff and George H. Ely by letters patent No. 122,079 for an improvement in connected carriage springs, reissued March 28, 1876, No. 7017, the invention secured thereby is held to have patentable novelty, although the question is by no means free from doubt.

The first reissue of that patent, being to correct a palpable and gross mistake, and being made within four months after the date of the original patent, was within the power of the Commissioner of Patents.

The second reissue of that patent is valid whether it be an enlargement of the original patent or not.

Miller v. Brass Company,104 U. S. 350, was not intended to settle a principle that under no circumstances would a reissue containing a broader claim than the original be supported.

The power to reissue a patent may be exercised when the original patent is inoperative by reason of the fact that its specification was defective or insufficient, or the claims were narrower than the actual invention of the patentee, provided the error has arisen from inadvertence or mistake, and the patentee is guilty of no fraud or deception; but such reissues are subject to the following qualifications:

(1) That it shall be for the same invention as the original patent, as such invention appears from the specification and claims of such original.

(2) That due diligence must be exercised in discovering the mistake in the original patent, and that if it be sought for the purpose of enlarging the claim, the lapse of two years will ordinarily, though

Page 145 U. S. 157

not always, be treated as evidence of an abandonment of the new matter to the public to the same extent that a failure by the inventor to apply for a patent within two years from the public use or sale of his invention is regarded by the statute as conclusive evidence of an abandonment of the patent to the public.

(3) That this court will not review the decision of the Commissioner upon the question of inadvertence, accident, or mistake unless the matter is manifest from the record; but that the question whether the application was made within a reasonable time is, in most, if not in all such cases, a question of law for the court.

Objections to a master's report should be taken in the court below, and if not taken there, cannot be taken here for the first time.

The allowance of an increase of damages, under the statute, to the plaintiff in a suit for the infringement of letters patent rests somewhat in the discretion of the court below, and its finding on this point will not be disturbed unless the evidence clearly demands it.

The Court stated the case as follows:

This was a bill in equity for the infringement of three patents, namely: (1) patent No. 108,085, issued October 11, 1870, to John B. Augur, for an improvement in gearing for wagons; (2) patent No. 123,937, issued February 20, 1872, to Cyrus W. Saladee, for an improvement in carriage springs, and mode of attachment; (3) patent No. 122,079, issued December 19, 1871, to John A. Topliff and George H. Ely, for an improvement in connecting carriage springs, reissued March 28, 1876, No. 7,017.

The patent to Augur consisted in a mode of equalizing the pressure upon two carriage springs by

"connecting together by a rigid rod the two pivoted links upon the clips employed on the hind axle, so that, when the weight is upon one spring, both springs, by reason of the connecting rod, shall be caused to work together, thus preventing the roll."

The effect of this device is such that if a heavy weight is thrown upon one spring, as, for instance, by a person getting into a buggy at one side, the pressure is borne equally by both springs. The claims alleged to be infringed were the following:

"1. The herein-described method of equalizing the action of springs of vehicles and distributing the weight of the load."

"2. The combination of the pivoted links with a rod connecting

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the same, the rod compelling both links to move in unison, as and for the purpose described."

The reissued patent to Topliff and Ely, as stated by the patentees,

"relates to side half-elliptic spring vehicles, and has for its object suspending the front and rear ends of the springs directly to the rear axle and front bolster of the running gear by means of two separate connecting rods, the outer ends of which have formed upon them, as a part of the same, and at right angles with the rod, short arms, between which the ends of the springs, respectively, are secured and operated, the connecting rod receiving the rear ends of the springs, being hinged to the rear axle, while the rod receiving the front ends of the springs is, in like manner, connected to the front bolster in such manner that the vibration of the springs will impart a corresponding rotation to the connecting rods front and back, and so that the depression of either spring will, by the rotary action imparted to the connecting rod, compel a corresponding depression of the other, and thus compel both springs to vibrate together, and move in unison one with the other, equalizing their action and the weight imposed upon them, as well as to prevent side motion to the body of the vehicle."

There were but two claims to this patent, which read as follows:

"1. The combination of two connecting rods located at the front and rear ends of a wagon body, and arranged to turn in their bearings, with a pair of half-elliptic springs, whereby the springs are caused to yield in unison with each other, substantially as and for the purpose set forth."

"2. The combination of the connecting rods, BB', provided with arms at their ends, with the half elliptic springs, AA', substantially as and for the purpose set forth."

The answer admitted that the defendant had manufactured and sold connecting rods for carriages substantially like those manufactured by the plaintiffs, and claimed the right so to do, alleging that plaintiffs' patents were both void for want of novelty, and that the reissued patent of Topliff and Ely was not for the same invention as the original, and denied that

Page 145 U. S. 159

his manufacture infringed in any way upon any right which plaintiffs had to the invention.

The case was heard in the court below upon pleadings and proofs, the court holding that the Augur patent and the Topliff and Ely reissue were good and valid, and that the defendant was guilty of infringement. An injunction was allowed, and the case was referred to a master to take an account of profits and damages. The master reported the sum of $8,480.54 to be due the plaintiffs from the defendant as damages for the infringement, and a final decree was entered for that amount, from which both parties appealed to this Court.

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