Zane v. Soffe,
110 U.S. 200 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Zane v. Soffe, 110 U.S. 200 (1884)

Zane v. Soffe

Argued October 24, 1883

Decided January 21, 1884

110 U.S. 200


1. A patent was issued June 22, 1865, to one Jennings (and subsequently assigned to appellants), for an improvement in self-acting cocks and faucets. The first claim was for a "screw follower H in combination with the valve of a self-closing faucet, substantially as set forth, and for the purpose described." This screw follower was a round stem "provided with a coarse screw thread or threads." It projected upward through the faucet, and terminated in a handle for the purpose of turning it downward to let on the water. At its lower end, it rested upon a valve which was supported by a spiral spring, the object of this spring being to keep the valve closed when the pressure was removed. It appearing that for ten or fifteen years before the date of J.'s patent, B. had manufactured and sold faucets in which an inclined plane or cam was used as a means of producing the result upon the valve stem which was produced by J.'s screw. Held that J.'s 1st claim must be limited to a screw follower, and could not be construed to embrace an arrangement for moving the valve.

2. Since the decision in Loom Co. v. Higgins, 105 U. S. 580, it is held that under a general denial of the patentee's priority of invention, evidence of prior knowledge and use, taken without objection, is competent at the final hearing not only as demonstrative of the state of the art, and therefore competent to limit the construction of the patent to the precise form of parts and mechanism described and claimed, but also on the question of the validity of the patent.

Bill in equity setting forth an infringement of a patent for

Page 110 U. S. 201

self-closing cocks or faucets, and praying for a perpetual injunction, for an account for the payment of damages, and for a temporary injunction. Answer denying the infringement and averring in substance that for ten or fifteen years prior to plaintiff's patent, a mechanism similar to that described in it had been in public use in New York and Brooklyn for purposes similar to those set forth in it. Decree below for defendant, from which plaintiffs appealed.

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