Packing Company Cases
105 U.S. 566 (1881)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Packing Company Cases, 105 U.S. 566 (1881)

Packing Company Cases

105 U.S. 566

Syllabus

1. Reissued letters patent No. 6870, hearing date April 6, 1875, granted to William J. Wilson "for improvements in processes for preserving and packing cooked meat," are void, all the elements therein described being old, and the aggregation of them bringing out no new product, nor any old product, in a cheaper or otherwise more advantageous way.

2. The first and third claims of reissued letters patent No. 7923, bearing date Oct. 23, 1877, granted to John A. Wilson "for improvement in sheet-metal cases," are void for want of novelty.

THE first case is an appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois, and the second and third are appeals from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Illinois.

By stipulation of the parties, these cases were argued together as one case.

The bills of complaint were filed by the Wilson Packing Company, Arthur A. Libbey, Archibald McNeil, and Charles P. Libbey, and they charge the Chicago Packing and Provision Company, the St. Louis Beef-Canning Company, and the other defendants with the infringement of several reissued letters patent of the United States, of which the complainants are the assignees and owners.

Only two of these letters are relied on. First, reissued letters patent No. 6370, granted to William J. Wilson, dated April 6, 1875, upon an application filed April 2, 1875, "for improvements in processes for preserving and packing cooked meat," and second, reissued letters patent No. 7923, granted to John A. Wilson, dated Oct. 23, 1877, upon an application filed Oct. 15, 1877, for "improvement in sheet-metal cases." The bills were dismissed on final hearing, and the complainants appealed.

The original patent of William J. Wilson bears dated March 31, 1874. The specification is as follows:

"Be it known that I, Wm. J. Wilson, of Chicago, in the County of Cook and State of Illinois, have invented certain new and useful

Page 105 U. S. 567

improvements in processes for preserving and packing cooked meats, and I do hereby declare that the following is a full, clear, and exact description thereof."

"The nature of my invention consists in a process for packing cooked meats for transportation in a compressed form, while heated with cooking, into an air-tight package so as to preserve the meat in its integrity and retain all the natural juices and nutritious qualities of the meat."

"In carrying out my invention, the meat is first cooked thoroughly at a temperature of 212� Fahrenheit, so that all the bone and gristle can be removed, and the meat yet retain its natural grain and integrity. The meat is then in proper condition for eating, and is wholesome and palatable. A measured quantity of this cooked meat is then, while yet warm with cooking, pressed by any suitable apparatus into a previously prepared box or case, with sufficient force to remove the air and all superfluous moisture, and make the meat form a solid cake. The box or case is then closed air-tight upon the meat."

"The meat is thus packed and compressed in its natural state -- that is, without disintegration or desiccation -- and it retains all the juices and nutritious qualities of the meat, the compression only removing the superfluous moisture. The meat thus put up is available at all times, even when cooking is impracticable, as it is already cooked before it is packed. It is more economical, as it is compressed and reduced in weight one-half from the uncooked weight, being free from bone and gristle, and put up in a compact, portable shape for transportation, rendering the usual expensive cooperage unnecessary. Besides this, there is a great saving in the cost of transportation. A barrel containing two hundred pounds uncooked meat weighs, gross, three hundred and twenty pounds, meat, salt, brine, and barrel, while by my process it would weigh only one hundred and ten pounds gross, making a saving in cost of freight alone of nearly two-thirds."

"The box or case may be made of wood or metal, or both combined, of any suitable form or shape, and of any desired dimensions."

The claim is thus stated:

"1. The within-described process for packing cooked meats for transportation, by compressing the same into an air-tight package so as to preserve the meat in its integrity and retain all the natural

Page 105 U. S. 568

juices and nutritious qualities of the meat, substantially as set forth."

"2. As a new article of merchandise, cooked meat put up in solid form, in its natural state, without disintegration or desiccation, in hermetically sealed packages, as set forth."

The differences between the specification and claim of the reissued and those of the original patent of William J. Wilson are these:

First, the second clause of the specification of the reissued patent omits the words "while heated with cooking," contained in the corresponding clause of the original; second, "preferably" in the third clause of the specification is inserted before "while yet warm with cooking;" third, the first claim of the reissued patent omits "while heated with cooking," contained in the first claim of the original patent. In all other respects, the specifications and claims are identical. Therefore his patents are the same except that the reissue covers the process of packing the meat cold if preferred, while the original requires that it shall be packed while warm with cooking.

There is nothing in either patent in regard to the boiling or to any preliminary corning or curing of the meat.

On Oct. 26, 1880, while the cases were pending below, and after the testimony-in-chief of the defendants had been taken, the patentee and the complainants filed in the Patent Office a disclaimer of the word "preferably" where inserted in the specification of the reissued patent, and also of any process described and claimed by which meat in any other than a warm or heated condition is to be compressed into the packages.

On the same day, they filed a disclaimer of any interpretation or legal construction of the specification of the reissued patent broader than is conveyed by the words

"the meat is first cooked thoroughly by boiling it in water, so that all the bone and gristle can be removed and the meat yet retain its natural grain and integrity."

The claim was thus restored to what it was originally, except in the original patent it is limited by the second disclaimer to the packing of meat cooked by boiling. As amended by the disclaimers, the claim of the reissued patent is as follows:

Page 105 U. S. 569

"First, the within-described process of packing, for transportation, meats cooked by boiling, by compressing the same while heated with cooking into an air-tight package, so as to preserve the meat in its integrity, and retain the natural juices and nutritious qualities of the same."

"Second, as a new article of manufacture, meat cooked by boiling, put up while heated with cooking, so as to form a solid cake in the package in its natural state, without disintegration or desiccation, in hermetically sealed packages, as set forth."

It will be seen that the invention, after the disclaimers were made, is a process consisting of the following elements:

1. The thorough cooking of the meat by boiling in water at a temperature of 212� Fahrenheit, and the removing of the bone and gristle.

2. The pressing of the meat while warm with cooking into a box or case with sufficient force to remove the air and superfluous moisture, so as to make the meat form a solid cake.

3. The closing of the box or case air-tight upon the meat.

It also covers the product of this process as described in the second claim.

The defense sets up want of novelty, and avers that the process described in the reissued letters patent of William J. Wilson is also described in prior English, French, and American patents, which are specified, and that it was practiced by many persons whose names and residences are given, at various dates prior to his application.

The specification in John A. Wilson's letters patent declares that the

"invention relates to hermetically sealed cans used in packing meats or other articles, and it consists in a pyramidal-shaped can having rounded corners, and both ends slightly flaring to form shoulders against which the head or end pieces rest."

Figure 1 is a perspective view of the can. Figure 2 is a transverse vertical section of the same, reversed.

"a represents the body of my can made in the form of a truncated pyramid with rounded corners, and with any desired number of sides, though I prefer to make it with four sides. Both ends of the body are made slightly flaring so as to form interior shoulders of offsets a, against which the heads B and C are to rest. The edges of these heads are turned outward, as shown, a b, and the

Page 105 U. S. 570

flaring edge d of the end of the can is turned over the flange b, and the three thicknesses of metal pressed together by machinery, with or without solder, so as to make air-tight joints."

"In packing cooked meats, it is done by means of a plunger through an aperture in the large head B, which opening is afterwards hermetically sealed by means of a cap or plate D."

"The can is to be opened at the larger end at or near the shoulder a by means of a suitable can opener, so that when the can is reversed, a slight tap on the smaller head C will cause the solidly packed meat to slide out in one piece, so as to be readily sliced as desired."

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The claims which are in controversy in this case are the first and third, which are as follows:

"A can for packing food, hermetically sealed and constructed of pyramidal form, with rounded corners and offset ends to support the heads, said heads being secured as shown and described."

"3. An improved article of manufacture, solid meat compressed and secured within a pyramidal case or can, so that said can forms a solid mould for the meat, and permits its discharge as a solid cake, substantially as described."

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