365 F.2d 83 (8th Cir. 1966), 18275, L & A Products, Inc. v. Britt Tech Corp.

Docket Nº:18275.
Citation:365 F.2d 83, 150 U.S.P.Q. 770
Party Name:L & A PRODUCTS, INC., and James F. Lindsay, Appellants, v. BRITT TECH CORPORATION, Oren B. Harmes, John H. Threlkeld and Donald A. Deal, Appellees.
Case Date:August 29, 1966
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 83

365 F.2d 83 (8th Cir. 1966)

150 U.S.P.Q. 770

L & A PRODUCTS, INC., and James F. Lindsay, Appellants,


BRITT TECH CORPORATION, Oren B. Harmes, John H. Threlkeld and Donald A. Deal, Appellees.

No. 18275.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

Aug. 29, 1966

         Rehearing Denied Sept. 27, 1966.

         Kenneth D. Siegfried, of Schroeder, Siegfried & Ryan, Minneapolis, Minn., for appellees. Everett J. Schroeder, Minneapolis,

Page 84

Minn., was with him on the brief.

         Before VAN OOSTERHOUT, BLACKMUN and GIBSON, Circuit Judges.

         BLACKMUN, Circuit Judge.

         On October 16, 1962, United States Patent No. 3,058,668 for an invention entitled 'cleaning apparatus' was issued to plaintiffs Oren B. Harmes, John H. Threlkeld and Donald A. Deal as joint inventors. These individual plaintiffs have granted the corporate plaintiff, Britt Tech Corporation, an exclusive license to manufacture, use, and sell devices embodying the subject matter of the patent.

         The four plaintiffs sued L & A Products, Inc., James F. Lindsay, its president, and Dennis Warta, a dealer, for damages and injunctive relief based upon alleged patent infringement, unfair competition, false marking, and antitrust violations. The defendants denied these allegations, asserted the invalidity of the patent, and counterclaimed for alleged unfair acts on the part of the plaintiffs and their agents. A preliminary procedural aspect of the litigation is reported as Britt Tech Corp. v. L. & A. Products, Inc., 223 F.Supp. 126 (D.Minn.1963).

         Prior to trial the district court dismissed the antitrust count, the counterclaim, and the entire suit as to Warta. After trial the court, in an unreported memorandum, held that the patent was valid and that Lindsay and the corporate defendant had infringed it. It concluded, however, that the plaintiffs had not established unfair competition or false marking and it dismissed those counts with prejudice. Injunctive relief and the determination of damages were withheld pending appeal.

         The defendants appeal from the trial court's determinations of validity and infringement and from its refusal to dismiss as to Lindsay who, they claim, acted only as an officer of the corporate defendant. The plaintiffs have not appealed from any aspect of the judgment adverse to them.

          We reverse on the issue of patentability and patentability's requirement of nonobviousness. This makes it unnecessary for us to consider the secondary issues of infringement and Lindsay's status.

         The patent has 19 claims. It is stipulated, however, that the plaintiffs rely only on claims 4, 5, 6 and 8. The patented device is used primarily for cleaning automobiles by the selective application of soap, rinse water, solvent, and compressed air through a ststem of conduits ending in a nozzle or spray gun. The operator controls the application through the use of switch buttons on the gun. Only the rinse and soap bases are involved here.

         The trial court found that the 'heart' of the plaintiffs' invention is a solenoid 'restrictor valve' in the water line. No one disputes the correctness of this finding. The valve is opened or closed by the operator by use of one of the buttons. It is opened for the rinse phase. There is, however, a narrow bypass drilled through the valve which, when the valve is closed, permits the passage of a relatively small quantity of water. This flow is then inadequate to satisfy the demands of the pump which draws water to the nozzle; as a consequence, the pump, being 'starved', pulls soap concentrate from a tank through...

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