General Electric Co. v. Hygrade Sylvania Corporation

Citation61 F. Supp. 476
Decision Date30 March 1944
CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York




Alexander C. Neave, of New York City (Harrison F. Lyman, of Boston, Mass., John H. Anderson, of Cleveland, Ohio, and Rowland V. Patrick, of Boston, Mass., of counsel), for plaintiff.

Gifford, Scull & Burgess, of New York City (Newton A. Burgess and H. H. Hamilton, both of New York City, of counsel), for defendant Hygrade Sylvania Corporation.

Dean S. Edmonds, of New York City (Delos G. Haynes, of St. Louis, Mo., and Elmer J. Gorn, of Newton, Mass., of counsel), for defendant Raytheon Mfg. Co.

LEIBELL, District Judge.

This action puts in issue (1) the validity and scope of a number of patents for electrical discharge devices and ultra violet lamps and (2) the infringement of the patents by the manufacture and sale of fluorescent and germicidal lamps.

Patents in Suit

Plaintiff, General Electric Company, charges that claim 3 of patent No. 1,790,153 issued to Hull, January 27, 1931, for an electrical discharge device, and claims 6, 13, 25 and 27 of patent No. 2,182,732 issued to Meyer, Spanner and Germer, December 5, 1939 for metal vapor lamps, have been infringed by the defendant, Hygrade Sylvania Corporation, in the manufacture and sale of fluorescent lamps. The Hull and Meyer patents are owned by General Electric.

In a counterclaim the defendant Hygrade alleges that General Electric by the manufacture and sale of the General Electric fluorescent lamps and certain ultra violet germicidal lamps, has infringed claims 13, 43, 72 to 78 inclusive, and 80 of patent No. 2,201,817 issued to Charles G. Smith on May 21, 1940, for electronic space current discharge devices, and claims 1, 7, 11 to 13 inclusive, 25 to 30 inclusive, 41, 43, 48 and 49 of Reissue patent No. 21,954 to LeBel, reissued November 25, 1941, for an ultra violet lamp. Hygrade is the exclusive licensee of the Smith and LeBel patents, owned by defendant Raytheon Manufacturing Company.

The validity of still another patent was originally put in issue in this litigation — patent No. 2,096,693 for a luminescent coating for electronic lamps, issued to J. L. Cox, on October 19, 1937 and owned by Hygrade. General Electric sought a judgment declaring the patent invalid. Hygrade also counterclaimed on the Cox patent. Towards the end of the trial Hygrade conceded the invalidity of the Cox patent and consented to a decree granting plaintiff's prayer for a declaratory judgment and dismissing defendant's counterclaim on the Cox patent. Prior to the trial the defendant Hygrade consented that another pleaded counterclaim, based on patent No. 1,982,821 for an electrode, issued to Marsden and Wheeler on December 4, 1934 and owned by Hygrade, should be dismissed.

The Raytheon Manufacturing Company was made a party defendant by stipulation, because it holds the legal title to the Smith and LeBel patents. It had issued exclusive licenses to Hygrade on the Smith patent, in the fluorescent and germicidal fields, and had given Hygrade the right to sue thereon, shortly prior to the pleading of the Hygrade counterclaim in this action. A similar arrangement had been made between them in February 1940, in reference to the LeBel patent, a few months before the institution of this suit by General Electric.

The Fluorescent Lamp

In November 1937 the General Electric Company put on its special selling list a lamp which produced a new kind of light, a fluorescent lamp, generally acknowledged as the greatest advance in lighting since the Edison invention of the incandescent lamp. The white light of the fluorescent lamp, per watt of electrical energy consumed, is three times as efficient as the incandescent lamp. In the field of colored lights the fluorescent lamp is many fold more efficient per watt than colored incandescent lamps. For green it is 200 fold; for blue 50 fold. The colors include blue, green, pink, gold and red — in addition to daylight and white. Fluorescent lamps made in cylindrical tubes an inch to an inch and a half in diameter and varying in length between eighteen inches and forty-eight inches, give off their light over a large surface. They have less glare and give off less heat than an incandescent lamp of the same wattage with its more concentrated light. The eighteen inch fluorescent lamps are 15 watts; the twenty-four inch — 20 watts; the thirty-six inch — 30 watts; the forty-eight inch — 40 watts (see Exs. 5 and 6).

The great demand for fluorescent lamps for all kinds of lighting, in factories, in offices and in the home, is shown by the sales of General Electric fluorescent lamps since November 1937. In 1938 General Electric sold about 180,000 fluorescent lamps; in 1939 — about a million; in 1940 over four and a quarter million; and in 1941 — 13,728,000 lamps. Hygrade copied in every detail the General Electric fluorescent lamps and began to market them in great quantities in 1939, falsely claiming for itself in extensive advertising that it was the creator of this "miracle in lighting." How many million fluorescent lamps Hygrade made and sold is not in the record, but that their sales were extensive cannot be denied.

The fluorescent material of the lamp is applied in the form of a phosphor coating on the inside of the elongated glass tube. When the ultra violet rays of 2536.7 Angstrom Unit wave lengths, emitted by the mercury vapor within the lamp, strike the phosphor coating it is activated and fluoresces and gives off light. The fluorescent lamps will operate on ordinary household and commercial A. C. current of 110-220 volts.

The phenomena by which the ultra violet rays of 2536.7 A. U. are produced within the sealed glass tube is as follows: Within the lamp, sealed in at each end of the tube, is an electrode which changes from negative to positive, on a 60 cycle A. C. current, 120 times a second, so that at the time the electrode at one end of the lamp is negative (a cathode), the electrode at the other end is positive (an anode). The electrodes are tungsten filaments coated with oxides of barium and strontium and are known as "Wehnelt" cathodes. The oxide coating helps the electronic emission from the cathodes so that they operate on less energy, start more readily and last longer.

The tube is of ordinary window glass. It is filled with an inert gas, argon, and a globule of mercury. The pressure of the argon gas, about three or four millimeters, does not vary much with the temperature of the lamp. The globule of mercury gives off a mercury vapor and its pressure does vary with the temperature. At about 70° F. (21° C.) the pressure of the mercury vapor within the lamp is about one micron (.001 of a millimeter). Atmospheric pressure is 76 centimeters or 760 millimeters of mercury. When the fluorescent lamp is in operation its temperature is 15-20° C. higher than that of the ambient air — a comparatively cold light. Taking into consideration the difference in temperature due to climate, the seasons, the time of day and the location of the lamp, the mercury pressure of the lamp, while in operation, may range from 4 or 5 microns to 39 microns.

The metal ends of the lamp fit into sockets. As supplementary equipment there is a switch, a choke or resistance, and a time delay switch. When the main switch is closed to start the lamp, the A. C. current flows through the choke, through the electrode in the lamp at one end, through the time delay switch, and then through the electrode at the other end of the lamp, and back to the A. C. supply. In this way the electrodes are preheated red-hot while the current is by-passed through a circuit, in which the time delay switch is located. During this preheating process none of the current passes through the tube itself. Preheating reduces the required starting voltage. The preheating is for a predetermined interval of a few seconds until the time delay switch automatically opens its contacts. Thereafter the current passes from one electrode to the other, through the gaseous mixture within the lamp. The choke aids in starting the discharge and controls the value of the current flowing through the lamp. The electrical discharge consists of a stream of electrons — negative units of electricity — which flow from the negative electrode (the cathode) toward the positive electrode (the anode).

When the lamp is in operation, the electrodes are of different voltage or electrical potential. The force which causes the electrons to move from cathode to anode is the electrical field which exists between the two electrodes, due to their different voltage. That difference is known as the voltage drop between them. The size and quality of the electrode is very important. Heated electrodes coated with alkali earth oxides give off most readily the greatest emission of electrons. An electrode thus heated is termed a thermionic cathode and the emissions therefrom "thermionic emissions." General Electric lamps use preheated Wehnelt cathodes, which Hygrade copied.


The pressure of the two gases in the tubes aids the passage of the current from cathode to anode. If the tube contained no gas it would be difficult for the current to flow from cathode to anode at a low voltage, because of the presence of "space charge," which is practically eliminated in the gas filled lamp. The electrons, emitted by the Wehnelt cathode when the lamp is in operation, act upon the gases (argon and mercury vapor) within the tube and cause ionization. This phenomena, ionization, has been explained by plaintiff's expert, Dr. Clifton G. Found, about as follows: An atom consists of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by a number of electrons, the number depending upon the kind of atom it is. An argon atom nucleus is surrounded by 18 electrons; a mercury nucleus by 80 electrons. The negative charges of the electrons and the positive...

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