Stimpson v. Woodman
77 U.S. 117 (1869)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Stimpson v. Woodman, 77 U.S. 10 Wall. 117 117 (1869)

Stimpson v. Woodman

77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 117

Syllabus

Where a roller in a particular combination had been used before without designs on it, and a roller with designs on it had also been used in another combination, it was not a patentable invention to place designs on the roller in the first named combination. Such a change, with the existing knowledge in the art, involved, simply mechanical skill, which is not patentable.

Woodman sued Stimpson in the court below to recover damages for an infringement of a patent granted on the 29th March, 1864, for "a new and useful machine for ornamenting leather," as stated in the letters patent. In the specification the plaintiff stated that he has "invented a new and useful improvement in boarding or pebbling leather," and describes how this process was formerly carried on. He says:

"What is known as a boarded or pebbled grain or finish, has hitherto been given to leather by what is called the boarding operation, which consists in doubling the skin over on to itself on a table, so that the flesh side shall be out, and then forcing or rucking one part over the other, in different directions, by means of a flat 'cork-board,' which breaks or wrinkles the grain, and gives it a rough, checkered, or pebbled appearance. This operation is performed by hand, and is very slow and laborious, and produces only one particular kind of finish."

He then observes:

"The nature of my invention, therefore, consists in producing this 'pebbled' or 'boarded' grain or finish on leather, by subjecting it to the pressure of a short revolving cylinder or roller of steel, or other suitable metal, having the required design or figure engraved or sunk on its periphery. . . . My improvement further consists in combining with said roller a certain new and useful combination of mechanical devices for carrying my invention into practical operation, so as to accomplish the object desired with great rapidity and cheapness. "

Page 77 U. S. 118

He further observes:

"It is obvious that my 'pebbled' roller may be combined with various mechanical devices, whereby it can be rolled with sufficient pressure over a skin of leather. I will, however, now describe a combination of devices which I find to answer every purpose required."

The plaintiff then describes with great minuteness the machine, and every part of it, and closes with his claims:

"First. Boarding or pebbling skins or leather by means of a single short cylinder rolling over a table with the requisite pressure, substantially as described."

"Second. I also claim raising and lowering the table 'A' by means of the toggles 'Q,' arm 'S,' spring 'U,' arm 'T,' and cam 'P,' or their equivalents, substantially as set forth, and for the purposes described."

The second claim was not in the case, as the arrangement or contrivance was not found in the defendant's machine. The first was the only one in question. That, as already stated, was "boarding or pebbling" skins or leather by means of a single short cylinder rolling over a table with the requisite pressure, substantially as described, which means, as this Court stated that they understood the claim, finishing or figuring the leather, by means of a revolving roller, the design or figure engraved or sunk on its periphery, and worked over the grain of the leather by the use of the machinery described, or by machinery substantially like it.

It was admitted in the bill of exceptions that evidence was given on the trial by the defendant tending to show that prior to the plaintiff's invention, boarded or pebbled grain or finish, described in his patent as produced by him, had been produced on leather by subjecting it to the pressure of a short revolving cylinder of steel or other metal, having the required design or figure engraved or sunk on its periphery, and rolling over a table upon which the leather was placed; and that the said revolving figured cylinders, which

Page 77 U. S. 119

are known in the case as "pebbling rollers," were operated with the requisite pressure by means of hand devices.

It was also admitted that the defendant gave evidence tending to show that prior to the plaintiff's improvement there was known and used a machine (made by one Green) which, in its substantial combination or arrangement of its parts, cooperating together for the purpose of impressing the surface of leather, differed in no material respect from the machine described in the letters patent, whereof a model was produced, except in respect to the mechanism for raising and lowering the table (not in the defendant's machine), and except that instead of operating a short revolving roller like the plaintiff's, having a figured surface for the purpose of producing the pebbled grain on leather, it operated a short revolving metallic roller, having a smooth surface, for the purpose of giving to the leather a closer natural grain; that this was the only diversity between the two machines; and that having the smooth roller instead of the roller with the ornamented surface, made no difference in the substantial combination or arrangement of machinery cooperating together in said machines for the purpose of doing the work.

On this case the defendant asked the court to instruct the jury as a second instruction, thus:

"If they find that the form of the surface of the rollers in the plaintiff's machine is not material to the mechanical action of the roller in combination with the other devices, and their arrangements, by which the roller is moved, the leather supported, and the pressure made; and if they find that before the plaintiff's invention, a machine was known and used not differing substantially from the plaintiff's machine in any other respect, but having a roller for giving a finish to leather, the surface of which roller was different from that specifically shown and described in plaintiff's patent; and if they find that, before the plaintiff's invention, rollers having such a surface as the plaintiff's, substantially, were known and used in other machines for the same purpose, the plaintiff's patent for the first claim is void. "

Page 77 U. S. 120

This was refused, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The other side now brought the case here.

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.