Graver Tank Mfg Co v. Linde Air Products Co, s. 184 and 185

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJACKSON
Citation336 U.S. 271,69 S.Ct. 535,93 L.Ed. 672,80 USPQ 451
PartiesGRAVER TANK & MFG. CO., Inc., et al. v. LINDE AIR PRODUCTS CO. (two cases)
Docket NumberNos. 184 and 185,s. 184 and 185
Decision Date28 February 1949

Mr. Thomas V. Koykka, of Cleveland, Ohio, for petitioners.

Messrs. John T. Cahill, of New York City, and Richard R. Wolfe, of Chicago, Ill., for respondent.

Mr. Justice JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Writs of certiorari have been granted, 335 U.S. 810, 69 S.Ct. 50, to review two judgments of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, 167 F.2d 531, involving the same patent. What we shall call the Jones patent was No. 2,043,960, issued to Lloyd Theodore Jones and others for an electric welding process and for fluxes, or compositions, to be used therewith. The patent is now owned by The Linde Air Products Company, which brought an action for infringement against the Lincoln and two Graver companies.

The District Court held four of the flux claims valid and infringed and concluded that the patent owner had not misused the patent so as to forfeit its claims to relief therefor. It held certain other flux claims and all of the process claims invalid. 86 F.Supp. 191.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the findings that four flux claims were valid and infringed and that the patent had not been abused, but reversed the trial court and held valid the process claims and the remaining contested flux claims. 7 Cir., 167 F.2d 531.

The petitioners contend not only that the Court of Appeals' judgment should be reversed, but that we should also reverse the District Co rt's finding of partial validity and should declare the patent entirely invalid and not infringed.

At the trial the electric welding prior art and the nature of the Jones invention were explored at length, and opinions of the two courts below, already in the books, adequately discuss the technology of that art and the scientific features of the claims involved. We shall confine this opinion to a statement of the legal principles which lead to our decision. I. Flux Claims 18, 20, 22 and 23, Held Valid, and Infringed, by Two Courts Below.

Electric welding was an established art before this invention but one with serious limitations which the industry sought to overcome. The known method was slow and laborious and permitted welding of only relatively thin plates. It was of different types, but each had such deficiencies as a dazzling open arc, smoke and splatter, which made operation unpleasant and somewhat hazardous.

Three scientifically trained individuals, Jones, Kennedy and Rotermund, set out purposely to discover a cure for the deficiencies and inadequacies in the method of flux welding, then the most successful method known. They collaborated for some six months in conducting a series of about 500 experiments in the course of which they compounded 75 different flux compositions. They finally produced the invention for which a patent was sought.

The trial court noted that the results produced by their invention contrasted with those possible under all prior methods in that 'there is no glare, no open arc, no splatter, and very little, if any, smoke in the Jones, et al. method.'

'The truly remarkable difference, however, between what Jones, Kennedy and Rotermund invented and what had gone on before is perhaps best manifested by the performance achievement of their invention. For instance, only through its use can plates as thick as two and one-half inches be welded in a single pass. Furthermore, the welding speeds made possible by it dwarf those of any other method, and the welds produced by it are of the highest quality in contrast to the great amount of porosity contained in the welds produced by the so-called clay flux process.'

The trial court continued: 'Since the patentees did invent something patentable over the prior art of electric welding, the collateral questions of what constitutes their invention and what are its boundaries become pertinent.' He concluded that what was really invented was that which was claimed and bounded by the composition claims Nos. 18, 20, 22 and 23. His findings and conclusion were affirmed by the Court of Appeals. We are now asked to hold that there has been no such invention.

Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., provides in part: 'Findings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge of the credibility of the witnesses.' To no type of case is this last clause more appropriately applicable than to the one before us, where the evidence is largely the testimony of experts as to which a trial court may be enlightened by scientific demonstrations. This trial occupied some three weeks, during which, as the record shows, the trial judge visited laboratories with counsel and experts to observe actual demonstrations of welding as taught by the patent and of the welding accused of infringing it, and of various stages of the prior art. He viewed motion pictures of various welding operations and tests and heard many experts and other witnesses. He wrote a careful and succinct opinion and made findings covering all the factual issues.

The rule requires that an appellate court make allowance for the advantages possessed by the trial court in appraising the significance of conflicting testimony and reverse only 'clearly erroneous' findings. These are manifestly supported by substantial evidence and the Court of Appeals found them supported by the weight of the evidence—indeed found the evidence to warrant support of the patent even in matters not found by the trial court. A court of law, such as this Court is, rather than a court for correction of errors in fact finding, cannot undertake to review concurrent findings of fact by two courts below in the absence of a very obvious and exceptional showing of error. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Ray-O-Vac Co., 321 U.S. 275, 64 S.Ct. 593, 88 L.Ed. 721; District of Columbia v. Pace, 320 U.S. 698, 64 S.Ct. 406, 88 L.Ed. 408; Williams Mfg. Co. v. United Shoe Machinery Corp., 316 U.S. 364, 62 S.Ct. 1179, 86 L.Ed. 1537; Baker v. Schofield, 243 U.S. 114, 118, 37 S.Ct. 333, 334, 61 L.Ed. 626.

No such showing is made. While the ultimate question of patentability is one of meeting the requirements of the statute, R.S. § 4886, as amended, 35 U.S.C. § 31, 35 U.S.C.A. § 31, the facts as found with respect to these four flux claims warrant a conclusion here that as matter of law those statutory requirements have been met. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment insofar as it holds claims numbered 18, 20, 22 and 23 define an invention for which patent has validly issued.

Turning to the question of infringement, the District Court found that the Lincoln Electric Co. made, and the other petitioners used and sold, a flux substantially identical with that set forth in the valid composition claims of the patent in suit and which could be made by a person skilled in the art merely by following its teachings. The petitioners introduced no evidence to show that their accused flux was derived either from the prior art, by independent experiment or from any source other than the teachings of the patent in suit. The court found infringement of each of the four claims and concluded that the respondent was entitled to a permanent injunction against future infringement and to an accounting for profits and damages. These findings and conclusions were affirmed by the Court of Appeals and we find no cause for reversal. II. Flux Claims Held Invalid by the District Court and Valid by the Court of Appeals.

The District Court held invalid claims to a flux for use in the process, numbered 24, 26 and 27. The Court of Appeals reversed as to these and held them valid. Remaining flux claims, numbered 19, 21, 25, 28 and 29, were not in issue, and claim 27 we consider along with the process claims.

The difference between the District Court and the Court of Appeals as to these findings comes to this: The trial court looked at claims 24 and 26 alone and declined to interpret the terms 'silicates' and 'metallic silicates' therein as being limited or qualified by specifications to mean only the nine metallic silicates which had been proved operative. The District Court considered that the claims therefore were too broad and comprehended more than the invention. The Court of Appeals considered that because there was nothing in the record to...

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