1. Reissued letters patent No. 4289, granted March 7, 1871, to
George Crouch, for an improvement in straps for shawls, are void,
by reasons of the prior knowledge and public use of the invention
which they describe.
2. The substitution of a known equivalent for one of the
elements of a former structure is not patentable.
This is a suit in equity by George Crouch against William Roemer
to prevent the infringement by the latter of reissued letters
patent No. 4289, granted March 7, 1871, to the complainant for an
improvement in straps for shawls.
Among the defenses set up by the respondent was the want of
novelty and the prior public use of the invention described in the
letters. The remaining facts are stated in the opinion of the
The court below sustained the defense and dismissed the bill.
Crouch thereupon appealed.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The appellant in this case, complainant below, in describing his
invention, when he applied for his patent, said that before his
"straps had been used to confine a shawl, or similar article, in
a bundle, and a leather cross-piece, with loops at the ends, had
extended from one strap to the other, and above,
Page 102 U. S. 798
and attached to this leather cross-piece, was a handle."
He then said:
"My invention consists of a rigid cross-bar beneath the handle,
combined with straps that are passed around the shawl or bundle,
such straps passing through loops at the ends of the handle."
This was because the "leather cross-piece or connecting strap"
was "liable to bend and allow the straps to be drawn toward each
other by the handle in sustaining the weight; . . . hence the
handle is inconvenient to grasp." From this, as it seems to us, the
rigid cross-bar was, from the beginning, the controlling idea of
the inventor. His object clearly was not to bind and hold the
bundle, but to keep the handle which the holder was to grasp from
pressing the sides of the hand. Hence he says:
"I claim as my invention -- 1. The rigid cross-bar, connecting
the ends of the handle, and provided with loops for the straps,
substantially as and for the purposes set forth,"
that is to say, to bind and hold a bundle to be carried. The
drawings which accompany this application show that the inventor
had in his mind straps which were to pass over the rigid bar
crosswise, but there is nothing to indicate that they might not
pass over the ends or through openings in the bar itself. Next, he
claims, "loops made of the leather of the handle, and secured to
the rigid cross-bar," and then, "the rigid cross-bar for a
shawl-strap made of sheet metal, corrugated and covered with
Clearly the defendant could not have infringed any other than
the first claim. He did have a rigid cross-bar connecting the ends
of a handle provided with openings, which were undoubtedly the
equivalent of loops through which the straps to hold the bundle
could pass, but he had no loops made of the leather of the handles,
and no cross-bar made of sheet-metal corrugated and covered with
leather. Our inquiries are therefore confined to the validity of
the first claim in the complainant's patent.
It is conceded in the patent itself that shawl-straps with
handles attached to a leather cross-piece having loops at the ends
were old. Eustace, one of the witnesses for the complainant, says
he made his goods with a cross-piece of the firmest leather he
could get, doubled and stitched, so as to render it firmer still.
His object clearly was to keep the weight of
Page 102 U. S. 799
the bundle from drawing the ends of the handle together so as to
press against the sides of the hand.
The testimony leaves no doubt on our minds that handles fastened
on rigid cross-bars and used to carry bundles were known long
before the complainant's invention. Possibly in adjusting them to
use, though this is by no means certain, the straps to bind the
bundle were not passed through loops across the bar, yet it is
clear, beyond all question, that the handle, rigid cross-bar,
loops, or their equivalent, and straps, or equivalents, were used
in combination to keep together and carry one or more articles in a
package made by piling or rolling the articles together. Under
these circumstances it was no invention to stiffen by artificial
means the leather cross-piece which had before been made as rigid
as it could be by thickness, doubling, and stitching. All that was
done by this inventor was to add to the degree of rigidity which
had been used before. The addition of metal or other substance as a
stiffener of the known cross-piece, which had already been made
rigid in a degree, was not invention. The substantial elements of a
well known structure were thus, in no patentable way, changed.
This view of the case makes it unnecessary to follow counsel in
their efforts to break down or sustain the testimony of individual
witnesses. The thing which the complainant claims to have patented
was substantially made and used long before his invention. All he
did was, by the use of known equivalents for some of the elements
of former structures, to make it somewhat better than it was ever
made before. This is not patentable.