Gill v. United States,
160 U.S. 426 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gill v. United States, 160 U.S. 426 (1896)

Gill v. United States

No. 85

Argued November 21-22, 1895

Decided January 6, 1896

160 U.S. 426


An employee, paid by salary or wages, who devises an improved method of doing his work, using the property or labor of his employer to put his invention into practical form, and assenting to the use of such improvements by his employer, cannot entitle himself, by taking out a patent for such invention, to recover a royalty or other compensation for such use.

A person looking on and assenting to that which he has power to prevent is precluded from afterwards maintaining an action for damages.

Solomons v. United States, 137 U. S. 342, affirmed and applied to this case.

This was a suit by Gill to recover of the United States the sum of $94,693.04 upon an implied contract for the use of certain machines covered by letters patent issued to the claimant.

The petition alleged, in substance, that from March, 1864, to March, 1881, the claimant was employed as machinist, foreman, and draftsman at the Frankford Arsenal, in the State of Pennsylvania, and since March, 1881, as master armorer at such arsenal, receiving during the term of his employment a per diem compensation for his services. His engagement required him to perform manual labor and to exercise his mechanical skill in the service of the government, but did not require the exercise of his inventive genius in such service, nor secure to the government the right to use any of his inventions without compensation.

That at sundry times from 1869 to 1882, six patents were granted to him, for a cartridge-loading machine, a weighing machine, a gauging machine, a cartridge anvil, a heading machine, and a priming tool for reloading; that at different times, he assigned to individuals or corporations all these inventions, but reserved to the government the right to use them.

The petition further alleged that the reasonable value of such use by the government amounted to the sum of

Page 160 U. S. 427

$94,693.04, no part of which had even been paid; that no action upon the claim had been had in any department of the government beyond repeated acknowledgments, by the ordnance department, of claimant's right to compensation for the use of the inventions.

The government made a general denial of the allegations of the petition, and submitted the case to the Court of Claims, which made a finding of facts, the material portions of which are printed in the margin, * and entered a judgment dismissing

Page 160 U. S. 428

the claim upon the ground that where an employee of the government takes advantage of his connection with it to introduce an unpatented device into the public service, giving no intimation at the time that he regards it as property or that he intends to protect it by letters patents, but allows the government to test the invention at its own exclusive cost and risk by constructing machinery and bringing it into practical use before he applies for a patent, the law will not imply a contract, and that a contract will not be implied in favor of an employee who has thus placed a patented device in the public service as to machines constructed and used after his patent has been obtained.

Page 160 U. S. 429

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