An unliquidated claim against the United States, under the Act
of June 25, 1910, c. 423, 36 Stat. 851, for the alleged
infringement of a patent is not assignable with the patent.
Rev.Stats. § 3477. P. 250 U. S.
The essential feature of patent No. 551,614, granted to Sarah E.
Brothers et al.
for "improvements in cable cranes with
gravity anchors," is a nonyielding support or anchor at one end of
the cable, and a yielding, tilting, or rocking support at the
opposite end, consisting of outwardly inclined shears or some
equivalent structure held movably at the base, and a counterweight
on the outer side. Id.
This patent was not infringed by the use of cableways supported
by two towers, both of which were intended and constructed to be
rigid, but both of which, upon the tightening of the cables, done
for the purpose of enabling the loads to clear the work as its
height increased, acquired a tendency to yield with the yielding of
the railroad bed beneath them under the increased stress. P.
250 U. S.
Findings of the Court of Claims are to be treated like the
verdict of a jury, and this Court is not at liberty to refer to the
evidence, any more than to the opinion, for the purpose of eking
out, controlling or modifying their scope. Id.
52 Ct.Clms. 462 affirmed.
The case is stated in the opinion.
Page 250 U. S. 89
MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellant brought this action in the Court of Claims under the
Act of June 25, 1910, c. 423, 36 Stat. 851, to recover compensation
for the unlicensed use by the United States in the Panama Canal
work of his patented invention for "improvements in cable cranes
with gravity anchors." That court made findings of fact upon which
it concluded as matter of law that there was no infringement of
claimant's patent, and thereupon dismissed his petition. 52
From the findings, it appears that claimant filed application
for his patent July 18, 1895, and, upon such application, letters
patent No. 551,614 were granted and issued, under date December 17,
1895, to his assignees, Sarah E. Brothers and Maria A. Brown, to
whom he had made assignment pending the application. Subsequently
the letters patent were assigned to claimant, under date October 2,
1912, 2 1/2 months prior to their expiration by limitation on
December 17, 1912. His claim to compensation is necessarily limited
to this brief period, since there could be no assignment to him of
any unliquidated claim against the government arising prior to the
time he became the owner of the patent. Rev.Stats. § 3477.
No question is made but that plaintiff's invention was broadly
new, a pioneer in its line, and the patent entitled to a broad
construction and the claims to a liberal application of the
doctrine of equivalents. See Brothers v. Lidgerwood Mfg.
223 F. 359. It relates to the method of erecting and
operating a suspension
Page 250 U. S. 90
cable adapted to carrying a traveling crane or the like. Roughly
speaking, the prior art consisted in supporting such cables upon
rigid and unyielding towers at each end, so as to prevent an undue
sagging of the cable under the strain of its load. Claimant's
invention consisted in employing a rigid support or abutment at one
end of the cable and what is called a "gravity anchor" at the
opposite end, consisting of outwardly inclined shears with the
cable attached thereto and a weight hung permanently from the
shears on the opposite side, which weight, together with the weight
of the shears, puts a tension upon the cable varying according to
the weight of the structure and counterweight, combined with the
degree of inclination of the structure, the operation of the
tension device being automatically to take up the slack of the
suspended cable when the load approaches the supports, with the
result of permitting the load to be moved closer to the supports,
with a given exertion of power, than before. There are other
advantages not necessary to be specified. The essential feature of
the patent is a nonyielding support or anchor at one end of the
cable and a yielding, tilting, or rocking support at the opposite
end, consisting of outwardly inclined shears or some equivalent
structure held movably at the base and a counterweight on the outer
side. It is to be observed that rigidity of the head tower is a
sine qua non,
necessary to produce tension of the cable;
yielding supports at both ends would be a contradiction of terms,
since, with such an arrangement, there would be no support, and the
entire structure would collapse under its own weight. The
importance of this will appear.
In the construction of the Panama Canal, the government
installed in the year 1909, and maintained and used continuously
thereafter until the expiration of the Brothers patent, one single
cableway and six duplex or double cableways which are complained of
in this case
Page 250 U. S. 91
as infringements. As to the mode of construction, maintenance,
and operation of these cableways, the findings of the Court of
Claims are as follows:
"The single and the duplex cableways were similar in general
design and construction, except that the towers of the former
supported a single cable, while those of the latter supported two
cables, parallel to each other at a distance of 18 feet apart, and
each operated independently of the other, the length of the towers
longitudinally of the canal cut being of proportionate dimension
for the accommodation of the two cables. The towers were of
structural steel construction, and, taking the duplex cableways for
illustration, each tower in vertical cross-section from front to
rear was in the shape of a right-angle triangle, with a base of
approximately 50 feet, a perpendicular or vertical height of about
85 feet, and a hypothenuse of about 98 feet, with a length of about
38 feet longitudinally of the canal. The two towers of the cableway
stood facing each other on opposite banks of the canal cut, with
their hypothenuse faces toward the cut. The cable span across the
cut between the tops of the towers was approximately 800 feet. The
cables used were 2 1/4-inch steel wire cables having a rated
breaking stress of 200 tons. The cables were supported by
headblocks or saddles at the tops of the towers, and their ends
were carried down and firmly anchored to the counterweighted bases
of the towers."
"Rigidity of the towers was desired, and, in order to secure
this and hold the towers rigid against any tendency to tip, tilt,
or yield under the stress of the suspended cables and their loads,
the platform base at the rear side of each tower -- that is, the
side farthest from the canal cut -- was counterweighted by a block
of cement concrete of over 150 tons weight, cast about the
structural steel members of the base of the tower and extending
along practically the entire length of the base. The entire
Page 250 U. S. 92
weight of each tower, including the tower proper, the trucks
upon which it was mounted, and the concrete counterweight, was
upward of 500 tons."
"To facilitate the shifting or moving of the cableways along the
canal cut as the work progressed, each tower was mounted upon sets
of trucks, similar to the trucks of railway cars, on the front and
rear sides of the base of the tower, and the whole structure was
mounted upon two standard-gauge railway tracks located on the bank
of the canal cut at the proper distance from each other and from
the similar tower tracks on the opposite bank of the cut."
"The cableways were operated by electrical power from the
machinery stations in the head tower of each cableway."
"Subsequent to the construction and installation of said
cableways, they were maintained and operated without change in
structural form or method of operation other than that, as the
height of the walls and other work of the canal increased,
beginning about August, 1910, it became necessary, in order to
admit of the loads being carried to pass clear of the works and men
engaged thereon as the height of the work increased, to take up the
slack or decrease the deflection of the cable. The cables were
accordingly drawn up for said purpose. This tightening up of the
cables or reduction of their deflection increased the effect of the
load and weight of the cables upon the towers as regards their
tendency to yield or tilt."
"It was the intent and purpose of the engineer officers of the
Canal Commission, by and under whom said cableways were designed,
constructed, and operated, that the towers thereof should be rigid
and nonyielding to the full extent that rigidity in cable towers
was possible, and there was no tilting or yielding of said towers
other than such as resulted from a yielding of the roadbed of the
tracks supporting them, portions of which roadbed consisted
Page 250 U. S. 93
of 'fills' of excavated materials upon swampy ground. There is
no satisfactory evidence that the towers either yielded or tilted
at any time during the period of claimant's ownership of said
Upon the argument here, appellant quoted somewhat amply from the
evidence taken before the Court of Claims. For the purposes of our
review, the findings of that court are to be treated like the
verdict of a jury, and we are not at liberty to refer to the
evidence, any more than to the opinion, for the purpose of eking
out, controlling, or modifying their scope. United States v.
Smith, 94 U. S. 214
94 U. S. 218
Stone v. United States, 164 U. S. 380
164 U. S. 382
District of Columbia v. Barnes, 197 U.
, 197 U. S. 150
Crocker v. United States, 240 U. S.
, 240 U. S. 78
and cases cited.
We concur in the opinion of the Court of Claims that no
infringement of claimant's patent is shown. In the Act of June 25,
1910, under which this suit is brought and under which alone it
could be brought, it is expressly provided that there shall be no
such suit "based on the use by the United States of any article
heretofore owned, leased, used by, or in the possession of the
United States." In view of this and of the fact that the cableways
complained of were theretofore in the possession of and used by the
United States, claimant insists that, after the passage of the act,
the government materially altered the cableways in such a manner as
to make them infringe his patent. The contention is that the cables
were tightened up in order to decrease their deflection, and that
this tightening, in view of the loads carried by the cables, caused
the supporting towers to yield or tilt, and thus to become, in
essence, movable towers like the gravity anchors covered by the
claimant's patent. But, as pointed out by the Court of Claims, it
is beyond question that, as constructed and used generally, and as
intended to be used, the government cableways did not infringe
claimant's device. The subsequent tightening of the cables was
Page 250 U. S. 94
in the orderly conduct of the work for the purpose of carrying
the loads over and free from the work that was being constructed.
So far as this caused a yielding of the tower under the stress of
the load, it was an incidental result, affecting or tending to
affect the towers on both sides, and not upon one side to the
exclusion of the other. It did not amount to a mechanical
equivalent of the claimant's structure; there is no semblance of an
outward inclination of a yielding tower or yielding support, but
rather a tendency on the part of rigid towers to break down or
collapse inwardly under an undue stress. And, as we have shown, the
rigidity of one support is as essential to claimant's structure as
is the movability of the other.
Inasmuch as the findings fully support the judgment of the court
below, its judgment must be and it is