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Opinion of the Court.
onstrated to be old in the art, and which he had specifically and consistently attributed to Edison. Nor is any explanation offered for the delay of the patentee—the Marconi Company-in waiting ten years to disclaim the use of the device with low frequency currents and to restrict it to a use with high frequency Hertzian waves which Edison had plainly foreshadowed but not claimed. For ten years the Fleming patent was held out to the public as a monopoly of all its claimed features. That was too long in the absence of any explanation or excuse for the delay, and hence in this case was long enough to invalidate the patent. The conclusion of the Court of Claims not only has support in the evidence, but we can hardly see how on this record any other could have been reached.
The Marconi Company's contention that it nowhere appears that Fleming was not the first inventor of the use of the patented device to rectify high frequency alterrating currents is irrelevant to the question of the sufficiency of the disclaimer. The disclaimer itself is an assertion that the claimed use of the invention with low frequencies was not the invention of the patentee, whose rights were derived wholly from Fleming. This improper claim for something not the invention of the patentee rendered the whole patent invalid unless saved by a timely disclaimer which was not made.
The Marconi Company also asserts that, as it is suing as assignee of the patentee, it is unaffected by the provisions of the disclaimer statutes, which it construes as restricting to the "patentee” the consequences of unreasonable delay in making the disclaimer and as exempting the assignee from those consequences by the sentence “But no patentee shall be entitled to the benefits of this section if he has unreasonably neglected or delayed to enter a disclaimer.” 35 U. S. C. 71. As the court below found, the Marconi Company was itself the patentee to whom the patent was
FRANKFURTER, J., dissenting.
issued on the assignment of Fleming's application in conformity to 35 U. S. C. § 44. The right given by $ 71 to the patentee or his assignees to sue for infringement upon a proper disclaimer obviously does not relieve the patentee from the consequences of his failure to comply with the statute because he acquired his patent under an assignment of the application. Altoona Theatres v. Tri-Ergon Corp., supra; Maytag Co. v. Hurley Co., supra; France Mfg.Co. v. Jefferson Electric Co., 106 F. 2d 605, 610. Such a contention is not supported by the words of the statute and if allowed would permit the nullification of the disclaimer statute by the expedient of an assignment of the application. We need not consider whether one who has taken an assignment of a patent after its issuance would have any greater rights than his assignor in the event of the latter's undue delay in filing a disclaimer. Compare Apex Electrical Mfg. Co. v. Maytag Co., 122 F. 2d 182, 189.
The judgment in No. 373 is vacated and the cause remanded to the Court of Claims for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. The judgment in No. 369 is affirmed.
MR. JUSTICE MURPHY took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, dissenting in part:
I regret to find myself unable to agree to the Court's conclusion regarding the invalidity of the broad claims of Marconi's patent. Since broad considerations control the significance and assessment of the details on which judgment in the circumstances of a case like this is based, I shall indicate the general direction of my views.
It is an old observation that the training of AngloAmerican judges ill fits them to discharge the duties cast FRANKFURTER, J., dissenting.
upon them by patent legislation. The scientific attainments of a Lord Moulton are perhaps unique in the annals of the English-speaking judiciary. However, so long as the Congress, for the purposes of patentability, makes the determination of originality a judicial function, judges must overcome their scientific incompetence as best they can. But consciousness of their limitations should make
1 “Considering the exclusive right to invention as given not of natural right, but for the benefit of society, I know well the difficulty of drawing a line between the things which are worth to the public the embarrassment of an exclusive patent, and those which are not. As a member of the patent board for several years, while the law authorized a board to grant or refuse patents, I saw with what slow progress a system of general rules could be matured. ... Instead of refusing a patent in the first instance, as the board was authorized to do, the patent now issues of course, subject to be declared void on such principles as should be established by the courts of law. This business, however, is but little analogous to their course of reading, since we might in vain turn over all the lubberly volumes of the law to find a single ray which would lighten the path of the mechanic or the mathematician. It is more within the information of a board of academical professors, and a previous ' refusal of patent would better guard our citizens against harassment by law-suits. But England had given it to her judges, and the usual predominancy of her examples carried it to ours." Thomas Jefferson to Mr. Isaac M'Pherson, August 13, 1813, Works of Thomas Jefferson, Wash. Ed., vol. VI, pp. 181-82.
"I cannot stop without calling attention to the extraordinary condition of the law which makes it possible for a man without any knowledge of even the rudiments of chemistry to pass upon such questions as these. The inordinate expense of time is the least of the resulting evils, for only a trained chemist is really capable of passing upon such facts, e. g., in this case the chemical character of Von Furth's socalled 'zinc compound,' or the presence of inactive organic substances. ... How long we shall continue to blunder along without the aid of unpartisan and authoritative scientific assistance in the administration of justice, no one knows; but all fair persons not conventionalized by provincial legal habits of mind ought, I should think, unite to effect some such advance.” Judge Learned Hand in Parke-Davis & Co. v. Muford Co., 189 F. 95, 115 (1911).
FRANKFURTER, J., dissenting.
them vigilant against importing their own notions of the nature of the creative process into Congressional legislation, whereby Congress "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" has secured "for limited Times to ... Inventors the exclusive Right to their ... Discoveries." Above all, judges must avoid the subtle temptation of taking scientific phenomena out of their contemporaneous setting and reading them with a retrospective eye.
The discoveries of science are the discoveries of the laws of nature, and like nature do not go by leaps. Even Newton and Einstein, Harvey and Darwin, built on the past and on their predecessors. Seldom indeed has a great discoverer or inventor wandered lonely as a cloud. Great inventions have always been parts of an evolution, the culmination at a particular moment of an antecedent process. So true is this that the history of thought records striking coincidental discoveries showing that the new insight first declared to the world by a particular individual was “in the air” and ripe for discovery and disclosure.
The real question is how significant a jump is the new disclosure from the old knowledge. Reconstruction by hindsight, making obvious something that was not at all obvious to superior minds until someone pointed it out,this is too often a tempting exercise for astute minds. The result is to remove the opportunity of obtaining what Congress has seen fit to make available.
The inescapable fact is that Marconi in his basic patent hit upon something that had eluded the best brains of the time working on the problem of wireless communication-Clerk Maxwell and Sir Oliver Lodge and Nikola Tesla. Genius is a word that ought to be reserved for the rarest of gifts. I am not qualified to say whether Marconi was a genius. Certainly the great eminence of Clerk Maxwell and Sir Oliver Lodge and Nikola Tesla
FRANKFURTER, J, dissenting.
in the field in which Marconi was working is not questioned. They were, I suppose, men of genius. The fact is that they did not have the "flash” (a current term in patent opinions happily not used in this decision) that begot the idea in Marconi which he gave to the world through the invention embodying the idea. But it is now held that in the important advance upon his basic patent Marconi did nothing that had not already been seen and disclosed.
To find in 1943 that what Marconi did really did not promote the progress of science because it had been anticipated is more than a mirage of hindsight. Wireless is so unconscious a part of us, like the automobile to the modern child, that it is almost impossible to imagine ourselves back into the time when Marconi gave to the world what for us is part of the order of our universe. And yet, because a judge of unusual capacity for understanding scientific matters is able to demonstrate by a process of intricate ratiocination that anyone could have drawn precisely the inferences that Marconi drew and that Stone hinted at on paper, the Court finds that Marconi's patent was invalid although nobody except Marconi did in fact draw the right inferences that were embodied into a workable boon for mankind. For me it speaks volumes that it should have taken forty years to reveal the fatal bearing of Stone's relation to Marconi's achievement by a retrospective reading of his application to mean this rather than that. This is for me, and I say it with much diffidence, too easy a transition from what was not to what became.
I have little doubt, in so far as I am entitled to express an opinion, that the vast transforming forces of technology have rendered obsolete much in our patent law. For all I know the basic assumption of our patent law may be false, and inventors and their financial backers do not need the incentive of a limited monopoly to stimulate