Turrill v. Michigan Southern Railroad Company
68 U.S. 491 (1863)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Turrill v. Michigan Southern Railroad Company, 68 U.S. 1 Wall. 491 491 (1863)

Turrill v. Michigan Southern Railroad Company

68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 491

Syllabus

1. Patents for inventions are not to be treated as mere monopolies, and therefore as odious in the law, but are to receive a liberal construction, and under a fair application of the rule that they be construed ut res magis valeat quam pereat. Hence, where the "claim" immediately follows the description, it may be construed in connection with the explanations contained in the specification, and be restricted accordingly.

2. Where a plaintiff, having a patent for an improved machine, his "improvement" consisting in certain pieces of mechanism described, having peculiar characteristics described, the pieces of mechanism being combined by means described so as to produce a particular result described, an admission by him that pieces of mechanism in their general nature like his, and used for "various purposes," were older than his invention is not an admission that these machines were the same as his, and the fact whether they were or were not is a question for the jury, and not for the court.

3. The patent granted September 9, 1856, to Cawood for an

"improvement in the common anvil or swedge block, for the purpose of welding up and reforming the ends of railroad rails when they have exfoliated or become shattered from unequal wear occasioned by the inequalities of the road,"

&c., is a patent in which special devices are described as combined and arranged in a particular manner, and as operating only in a special and peculiar way for a special purpose and to effect a special result. It is not a claim for any kind of movable press block, combined and operating in any way with any kind of fixed block to accomplish any purpose or effect any kind of result.

This was a writ of error to the Circuit Court for the District of Michigan. The action was trespass on the case brought against the Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana Railroad to recover damages for the alleged infringement of a patent, the defense having been want of originality in the invention.

The patent, which was granted originally to one Cawood, dated September 9, 1856, was for

"a new and useful improvement in the common anvil or swedge block, for the purpose of welding up and reforming the ENDS of railroad rails when they have exfoliated or become shattered from unequal wear occasioned by the inequalities of the road, six inches or so of the extreme end of the rail being frequently destroyed while the remainder is perfectly sound. "

Page 68 U. S. 492

The schedule ran as follows:

"I do hereby declare that the following is a full, clear, and exact description of the construction and operation of the same, reference being had to the annexed drawings, making a part in this specification and giving a perspective view of the machine:"

image:a

"A, representing the bed sill on which the anvil is placed; B the anvil or swedge block of cast iron; C C recesses, or dies across the face, the shape of the side of the rail; D solid block, making a part of anvil, with its side shaped to the side of the rail, while placed in its natural position; E a movable press block held down to anvil by dovetail tongues on the anvil and grooves in the movable press block, and operated by two eccentric cams, F, back and forth in a longitudinal direction to press the rail together while forming its end, and with sufficient travel to extricate the rail without altering its vertical position; G a rail of the T form, in its position, between the press blocks."

"I usually make my improved anvil and swedge block of cast iron, between four and five feet long and sixteen inches across the face, with two forms or recesses C C at one end, right and left, of a form corresponding with the side of the rail. Close to these is cast a raised block D, nearly as high as the rail, and with its farthest edge also shaped to fit the side of the rail when it lays across the anvil in its natural position. Next this I attach to the face of the anvil, by dovetail tongues and grooves or any

Page 68 U. S. 493

other convenient manner, what I call a movable press block E, with a similar but reverse-shaped edge, laying opposite the other so as to enclose the rail between the two, as in the jaws of a vice. This block I work by two eccentric cams F on a shaft, which is attached to the anvil by two standards H H, with bearings I I, either cast on or bolted to the edge of the same, so that half a turn of the crank will move the press block over a space a little more than the extreme width of the rail. The mode of using this machine is extremely simple and effective. A piece of iron (being of a size suitable to the deficiency of the rail) having been prepared and put in the fire, the rail being suspended by its middle to the level of the anvil, is brought to a welding heat, and then swung round from the fire in the space between the two blocks, where it is, by a half turn of the crank, pinched together by means of the cams F; the welding piece is then laid on the top of the rail and welded to the rail in the usual way, and leveled up and shaped by a swedge, held by the smith, of the form of that section which projects above the blocks, thus accomplishing at one heat what usually requires three or more. Should any imperfections remain, which is not usual if the first operation is properly gone through with, they can be removed by proper hand swedges after placing the rail in the recesses C C for that purpose."

The claim was thus:

"I do not claim the anvil block nor its recesses, but what I do claim as my invention and desire to secure by letters patent is the movable press block E, having its edge formed to the side of the rail G, in combination with another block D, with its edge of a similar but reversed form (the movable blocks to be operated by two cams, F, or in any other convenient manner), for the purpose of pressing between them a T, or otherwise shaped rail, thereby greatly facilitating the difficult operation of welding and renewing the ends of such rails after they have been damaged, in the manner herein described and set forth."

Having put the patent in evidence, shown an assignment of it to the plaintiff, and otherwise made out a prima facie case, the plaintiff rested. The defendants then introduced models of certain machines, for the purpose of showing that

Page 68 U. S. 494

the invention was not original. The models thus introduced were of the following machines: 1st. Of an angle-iron machine. 2d. Of an anchor machine. 3d. Of a bayonet machine. 4th. Of a machine patented in England to one Church.

On most or all of these, movable and fixed blocks were used, but it remained a question to be solved by inspection whether the forms of these blocks and the manner in which they were combined, and the means by which they were moved and held, were or were not adapted to the welding up and reforming the ends of railroad rails when exfoliated or shattered from unequal wear. The plaintiff, however, admitted, his admission being according to the bill of exceptions taken and sealed in the case, exactly in these words,

"that movable press blocks, in combination with faces of various shapes, and used for various purposes, were older than the alleged invention of Cawood, the patentee."

The evidence being closed, the plaintiff requested the court to charge the jury

"that the invention patented consisted of the movable press block and the block D, in combination with the anvil or swedge block B, described in said specification."

This instruction the court refused, and charged essentially as follows:

"In the view which the court takes of the case, there will be no question of fact for you to decide. According to the construction which the court has heretofore given to the patent and which it now repeats, the patentee claims as his invention the movable press block E, having its edge formed to the side of the rail G, in combination with another block D, the movable blocks to be operated by two cams, or in any other convenient manner. The specification shows that the block D is fixed and to be a part of the anvil or swedge block, in combination with which, as well as with the fixed block, the movable block is to be used. Movable press blocks in such combinations, with faces of various shapes, and used for various purposes, it is clearly proved and frankly admitted, are greatly older than the alleged invention of the patentee. The models exhibited in evidence of the 'angle iron machine,' the 'anchor machine,' the 'bayonet machine,'

Page 68 U. S. 495

and those made from the descriptions contained in the English patent of Church, are only some of the examples of their use and application. The patentee therefore claims that of which he is not the inventor. This fact is fatal to the patent, and entitles the defendant, as matter of law, to your verdict."

"If it be said that the claim is for the shape of the faces of the blocks, and the uses to which they are to be applied, the answers are:"

"1st. A mere change of form is not a patentable subject."

"2d. The use of a machine or invention for a new purpose is also not patentable."

"3d. It was the duty of the patentee to describe clearly what he claims as his invention, so that it might be distinguished without doubt or difficulty from everything else to be used in connection with it. This has not been done. If the limited construction here under consideration be deemed the correct one, still this objection would be fatal and your verdict the same. We are, however, satisfied that the true construction is the more comprehensive one, and that patentee claims the movable block in combination with the fixed one, and that the shape and proportions of the cheeks are only incidents and matters of detail."

The plaintiff took exceptions to the following among other parts of the charge:

First. To so much as stated that

"the movable press blocks in such combination, with faces of various shapes, and used for various purposes, being greatly older than the alleged invention of the patentee, was fatal to the patent, and entitled the defendant, as a matter of law, to the verdict of the jury."

Second. To so much as stated that, "in the view which the court takes of the case, there would be no question of fact for the jury to decide."

The chief question, therefore, in error was whether the court had or had not decided a question of fact; and so withdrawn the case improperly from the jury, and this chief question involved, as a previous one, the question whether the court had or had not rightly construed the patent.

Page 68 U. S. 508

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