142 F.2d 965 (6th Cir. 1944), 9669, Westinghouse Electric & Mfg. Co. v. Powerlite Switchboard Co.

Docket Nº:9669.
Citation:142 F.2d 965, 62 U.S.P.Q. 34
Party Name:WESTINGHOUSE ELECTRIC & MFG CO. v. POWERLITE SWITCHBOARD CO.
Case Date:June 01, 1944
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 965

142 F.2d 965 (6th Cir. 1944)

62 U.S.P.Q. 34

WESTINGHOUSE ELECTRIC & MFG CO.

v.

POWERLITE SWITCHBOARD CO.

No. 9669.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

June 1, 1944

As Amended June 19, 1944.

A. J. Hudson, of Cleveland, Ohio, and Victor S. Beam, of New York City (Kwis, Hudson, Boughton & Williams, of Cleveland, Ohio, on the brief), for appellant.

Albert R. Teare, of Cleveland, Ohio (Bates, Teare & McBean, Albert R. Teare, and Robert H. McBean, all of Cleveland, Ohio, on the brief), for appellee.

Before SIMONS, MARTIN, and McALLISTER, Circuit Judges.

SIMONS, Circuit Judge.

The patents involved in the present infringement suit are Jennings reissue No. 19, 887, granted March 10, 1936, for a panel circuit breaker, and Austin, No. 1, 705, 700, March 19, 1929, for a control apparatus. Both are in the electrical art and with affirmance in all respects of the report of a special master and the denial of exceptions thereto, were held invalid and not infringed by the appellee.

The Jennings patent relates to a distributing panel board wherein the branch and main line circuits of an electric light system are controlled by automatic circuit breakers adapted to open the circuit when a severe overload or a short circuit occurs. The ordinary lighting circuit in residences and small apartment buildings is designed to carry a load not greatly in excess of 15 amperes, but if a greater load were impressed upon it the wires would become overheated and perhaps start a fire if a safety device were not provided. It long had been customary to mount a fuse having a melting point of predetermined value, in each circuit upon the panel board, so that when a load of greater amperage than that for which the fuse was calibrated was impressed upon the circuit, the circuit would be broken by the melting of the fuse and danger avoided. The circuit then could be reestablished by inserting a new fuse in proper connection on the panel board. It was found, however, that electrically unskilled persons attempting to make a fuse replacement would sometimes insert a fuse of greater ampere capacity than that for which the circuit was designed, or would restore the circuit by the introduction of a coin or a piece of copper wire to bridge the contacts. In such cases the circuit would be left without protection of a safety device and danger by fire, the result.

The art, therefore, concerned itself with the problem of avoiding the use of fuses and evolved contracts which an electrically

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unskilled person could easily restore to working condition if broken through an overload, without creating hazard. So a device long known in the electrical art as a circuit breaker, was substituted in each circuit for the destructible fuse. Such circuit breakers are, in reality, switches wich are thermally or electro-magnetically controlled, so that when an excess of current passes through the circuit the switch will automatically be moved to open position. It may then be restored by the simple process of moving a handle to restore the contacts.

Jennings, in reissue patent No. 19, 887, was concerned with devising a distribution panel board which had incorporated into it as many circuit breakers as there were circuits, in such manner as to prevent access to the mechanism of the circuit breaker so that its calibration could not be disturbed by the householder or casual person, but which nevertheless left the handles of the circuit breakers available so that the circuits could readily be closed after automatic opening. He devised a panel wherein the enclosures for the circuit breakers are fastened to the base by a means constituting a seal, with handles accessible from the exterior of the enclosure but otherwise covered by the panel board housing, in such manner that they are inaccessible so long as the cover is in operative position. Thus, unauthorized tampering with the circuit breaker units is precluded, for in order to obtain access to the circuit breaker mechanism it would be necessary to remove the housing cover and the enclosure after breaking the seal. This is the main object of his invention, although he also provided a venting system consisting of a channel or flue for permitting the escape of gases generated by the operation of the circuit breaker, and an arrangement whereby each circuit breaker could be removed from the housing without disturbing the others or interrupting the service by them controlled.

The Jennings conception had merit. Our problem, however, is to determine whether it constituted invention as that term, so incapable of definition is applied in the patent law to denote contributions to a given art beyond the routine skill of the mechanic. The master, in his analysis of the evidence-- an analysis fully sustained by the record-- found that the appellant's expert had conceded that Jennings was not the first to put circuit breakers on a distribution panel, not the first to provide means for enclosing them or to apply a cover over them, nor the first to conceive a penal board with a liner extending around the opening to prevent access to their mechanism; that he was not the inventor of a circuit breaker having a rectangular case; that the sealing of electrical equipment in some form or other was used for years prior to Jennings, and that when asked if Jennings was the first to conceive a panel board having a liner around the opening to prevent access to the mechanism back of the liner, answered in the negative, stating that the Wesley patent (No. 926, 372) had showed that. This...

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