No. 310.

158 U.S. 299 (1895)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 20, 1895.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Charles K. Offield for appellant in all the cases.

Mr. John W. Munday for the Chase Elevator Company. Mr. Edmund Adcock was on his brief.

Mr. George S. Payson for the Railroad Companies.

MR. JUSTICE BROWN, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

While patent cases are usually disposed of upon bill, answer, and proof, there is no objection, if the patent be manifestly invalid upon its face, to the point being raised on demurrer, and the case being determined upon the issue so formed. We have repeatedly held that a patent may be declared invalid for want of novelty, though no such defence be set up in the answer. Dunbar v. Myers, 94 U.S. 187; Slawson v. Grand Street Railroad, 107 U.S. 649; Brown v. Piper, 91 U.S. 37.

The patent in question is for the combination of, (1) a fixed or stationary building; (2) two railway tracks; (3) an elevating apparatus; (4) elevator hopper scales, having a fixed or stationary hopper, provided with a valve or slide in its bottom; (5) a discharge spout, arranged for discharging the grain directly from the hopper into a car.

The second claim has the same combination duplicated, with the addition of a horizontal conveyor; the chutes JJ having therein doors or valves, and the slides or doors OO.

It is not claimed that there is any novelty in any one of the elements of the above combination. They are all perfectly well known, and if not known in the combination described, they are known in combinations so analogous that the court is at liberty to judge for itself whether there be any invention in using them in the exact combination claimed. We do not feel compelled to shut our eyes to a fact so well known as that elevators have, for many years, been used for transferring grain from railway cars to vessels lying alongside, and that this method involves the use of a railway track, entering a fixed or stationary building; an elevator apparatus; elevator hopper scales for weighing the grain; and a discharge spout for discharging the grain into the vessel. There is certainly no novelty in using two railway tracks instead of one, or in discharging the grain into a second car, instead of a storage bin or a vessel. Unless the combination accomplishes some new result, the mere multiplicity of elements does not make it patentable. So long as each element performs some old and well-known function, the result is not a patentable combination, but an aggregation of elements. Indeed, the multiplicity of elements may go on indefinitely without creating a patentable combination, unless by their collocation a new result be produced. Thus, nothing would have been added to the legal aspect of the combination in question by introducing as new elements the car from which the transfer was made; the engine that drew such car; the steam shovel; the engine that operated the shovel and the elevator; as well as the locomotive which drew the loaded car from the building, though these are all indispensable features, since each of them is an old and well-known device, and performs a well-understood duty.

Suppose, for instance, it were old to run a railroad track into a station or depot for the reception and discharge of passengers, it certainly would not be patentable to locate such station between two railroad tracks for the reception of passengers on both sides, and to add to the accommodations a ticket office, a newspaper stand, a restaurant, and cigar stand, or the thousand and one things that are found in buildings of that character. It might as well be claimed that the man who first introduced an elevator into a private house, it having been previously used in public buildings, was entitled to a patent for a new combination.

Not a new function or result is suggested by the combination in question. The cars run into the building on railway tracks, as they have done ever since railways were invented. The building is fixed and stationary, as buildings usually are. It is no novelty that it should contain an elevating device, and that the latter should raise the grain to the hopper scale, and should discharge it either into a bin or a vessel, or into another car. In principle it makes no difference which.

In fact, the combination claimed is a pure aggregation, and the decree of the court dismissing the bill is, therefore,



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