Graham v. John Deere Co.
Annotate this Case
383 U.S. 1 (1966)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Graham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S. 1 (1966)
Graham v. John Deere Co. of Kansas City
Argued October 14, 1965
Decided February 21, 1966
383 U.S. 1
In No. 11, petitioners sued for infringement of a patent, consisting of a combination of old mechanical elements, for a device designed to absorb shock from plow shanks in rocky soil to prevent damage to the plow. In 1955, the Fifth Circuit held the patent valid, ruling that a combination is patentable when it produces an "old result in a cheaper and otherwise more advantageous way." Here, the Eighth Circuit held that, since there was no new result in the combination, the patent was invalid. Petitioners in Nos. 37 and 43 filed actions for declaratory judgments declaring invalid respondent's patent relating to a plastic finger sprayer with a "hold-down" cap used as a built-in dispenser for containers with liquids, principally insecticides. By cross-action, respondent claimed infringement. The District Court and the Court of Appeals sustained the patent. Held: The patents do not meet the test of the "nonobvious" nature of the "subject matter sought to be patented" to a person having ordinary skill in the pertinent art, set forth in § 103 of the Patent Act of 1952, and are therefore invalid. Pp. 383 U. S. 3-37.
(a) In carrying out the constitutional command of Art. I, § 8, that a patent system "promote the Progress of . . . useful Arts," Congress established the two statutory requirements of novelty and utility in the Patent Act of 1793. Pp. 383 U. S. 3, 383 U. S. 6, 383 U. S. 12.
(b) This Court, in Hotchkis v. Greenoood, 11 How. 248 (1851), additionally conditioned the issuance of a patent upon the evidence of more ingenuity and skill than that possessed by an ordinary mechanic acquainted with the business. P. 383 U. S. 11.
(c) In § 103 of the 1952 Patent Act, Congress added the statutory nonobvious subject matter requirement, originally expounded in Hotchkis, which merely codified judicial precedents requiring a comparison of the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art, tying patentable inventions to advances in the art. Although § 103 places emphasis upon inquiries into obviousness, rather than into "invention," the general level of innovation necessary to sustain patentability remains unchanged under the 1952 Act. Pp. 383 U. S. 14-17.
(d) This section permit a more practical test of patentability. The determination of "nonobviousness" is made after establishing the scope and content of prior art, the differences between the prior art and the claims at issue, and the level of ordinary skill in the pertinent art. P. 383 U. S. 17.
(e) With respect to each patent involved here, the differences between the claims in issue and the pertinent prior art would have been obvious to a person reasonably skilled in that art. Pp. 383 U. S. 25-26, 37.
333 F.2d 529, affirmed; 336 F.2d 110, reversed and remanded.