Hunt Tool Company v. Lawrence

Decision Date10 June 1957
Docket NumberNo. 16378.,16378.
Citation242 F.2d 347
PartiesHUNT TOOL COMPANY and Louis Davis, Appellants, v. Richard R. LAWRENCE, Dailey Oil Tools, Inc., and Houston Oil Field Materials Co., Inc., Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

J. V. Martin, John C. Snodgrass, Houston, Tex., Vinson, Elkins, Weems & Searls, Joe E. Edwards, Houston, Tex., of counsel, for Hunt Tool Co.

Wm. E. Ford, Houston, Tex., for Louis Davis.

Earl Babcock, Duncan, Okl., Lawrence P. Gwin, Bay City, Tex., James F. Weiler, Houston, Tex., for appellee.

Before RIVES, TUTTLE and JONES, Circuit Judges.

Writ of Certiorari Denied June 10, 1957. See 77 S.Ct. 1296.

TUTTLE, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the district court1 upholding the validity of two of plaintiff-appellees' patents and holding that they were deliberately infringed by appellants' tool, and disposing of appellants' counterclaim by holding their patent invalid and not infringed by appellees' tools.

The technical problem to which the several patents and mechanisms at issue are addressed is the devising of a method for "fishing" out of an oil well an object (the "fish"), usually the "liner," that is stuck deep down in or below the "casing"; a mere pull exerted from the surface is frequently not adequate, for the very weight of the grappling tool and its connections many of thousands of feet up to the surface may strain the drilling rig, etc. to its capacity. The basic approach of all the devices here involved is to anchor one part of the "fishing tool" to the well casing reasonably close to the stuck object, to attach another part of the tool to the object itself, and then to exert a force between the two parts of the tool that will cause the object to be moved upward; once it slides freely it can of course be lifted out by conventional means.

The three patents at issue are:

The Costello Patent, No. 2,190,442, applied for on May 10, 1938, and issued on February 13, 1940, is owned by the appellee Dailey Tool Company (Dailey) and is licensed to the appellee Houston Oil Field Material Company (HOMCO). It describes, in its disclosures and its here pertinent claims (1, 2, 16) a device whereby one horizontal plate is fixed across the casing above the stuck object and another movable plate (denominated: "piston") is placed above it in the casing; a "grapple" is attached to the object below and is connected through the lower fixed plate to the upper movable one by means of a hollow tubing, the "string," which extends to the surface. Through the latter, and by means of an outlet in the tube between the two plates, fluid is pumped down and thus hydraulic pressure is exerted between the two plates which causes the upper one to lift up and pull the grapple and attached object with it. As described in each claim no special cylinder is required to contain the fluid horizontally, since that function is to be performed by the well casing into which the two plates are to be carefully and closely fitted. Although two earlier patents (Swan, No. 1,568,027, and Miller, No. 1,813,459) dealt with the use of hydraulic pressure to remove stuck objects, the Costello patent is apparently the first one in which the necessary force is exerted against a support fastened to the wall casing fairly close to the object, thus avoiding the possibility of breaking the string by putting a long section of it into tension as well as other problems involved in attempting to exert the necessary force directly from the surface. It does appear, however, and the district court found, that no commercially practical tool has or can be built exactly according to the Costello description since well casings are not uniform enough in diameter to permit the necessary close fitting of the plates nor are they strong and tight enough to withstand the pressure of the hydraulic fluid, and finally the device does not lend itself to the use of more than one pair of plates and so the total force that may be exerted is limited to the product of the available hydraulic pressure and the area of the movable plate.

The Davis Patent, No. 2,247,188, applied for on October 3, 1940, and issued on June 24, 1941, is owned by appellant Davis and by Hostutler and Williams, and is licensed to the appellant Hunt Tool Company (Hunt). In this device the portion of the tool that is fixed to the casing is placed above the movable member, which in turn is attached to the "fish" below it; the force between these two members is exerted by means of a threaded rod turned from the surface. In principle the force may be multiplied by adding additional pairs of members. Appellants point out that Claim No. 10,2 on which they rely, does not specify the means by which the force is to be exerted, either as mechanical or as hydraulic, though the disclosures and all the accompanying illustrations show a screw type device; the district court expressly stated that the patent presents not a hydraulic but purely a screwjack powered tool, and as so described is inoperative and lacking in utility. Apparently only one tool has ever been constructed according to the Davis patent and though there is some testimony that the tool was once applied successfully this point is in considerable dispute.

The Lawrence Patent, No. 2,377,249, applied for on January 9, 1945, and issued on May 29, 1945, is owned by appellee Lawrence, licensed to appellee Dailey, and sublicensed to appellee HOMCO. It describes a device in which a series of cylinders are fixed, one above the other and to the casing; inside each of these there is a movable piston, all of which are attached to the central string which extends both up to the surface and downward to the grapple and through which is forced the fluid by which the pistons are lifted in the cylinders. Like Costello it uses hydraulic pressure and basically consists of a plate fastened to the casing (i.e. the bottom of each cylinder) and a movable plate above (i.e. the piston) fastened to the string, between which two plates the force is exerted; unlike Costello actual cylinders are used instead of depending on the casing walls to contain the fluid pressure and thereby the several objections that make the Costello device impractical are overcome. Like Davis it may make use of a series of pairs of "plates" which permits multiplication of the force, but unlike it it is specifically a hydraulic tool. Apparently at least one successful tool was made precisely according to this patent, but later tools manufactured by the appellees contain certain departures from it which make the devices commercially more valuable.

Dailey and HOMCO both manufacture commercially successful tools under the Costello and Lawrence patents, though as noted their design does not follow exactly the illustrations of the "preferred embodiment" in the disclosures. Hunt manufactures a commercially successful tool allegedly under the Davis patent, of which the district court said: "It is my opinion that the application of the doctrine of equivalents would identify the Hunt tool as a copy of the Dailey tool." It is described further below. Both sides claim that the other's tool infringes their patent and that their tool does not infringe the "invalid" patent(s) of their opponents.

The Hunt tool consists of a series of vertically connected cylinders, none of which is fastened to the casing, to the bottom one of which is attached the grapple which secures the stuck object. Inside each cylinder there is a piston, all of which are connected through a hollow central shaft through which the hydraulic fluid is introduced into each cylinder; this vertical series of pistons is attached to the casing — thus providing the rigid point of support against which the lifting force is exerted. The force is hydraulic and acts between the top surface of each piston and the bottom surface of the top plate on each cylinder, causing the cylinders to rise and pull the grapple up with them. Unlike the devices specifically described by Costello and Lawrence, neither the pistons nor even the movable cylinders are attached rigidly to the string from the top; however, during the crucial pulling stroke the string must be pulled from the top at the same rate that the cylinders are being forced up by the hydraulic pressure else the flow of fluid is cut off by means of a special valve arrangement, and thus the movement of the pistons and the string is coordinated as if they were rigidly fastened together. Like the Costello patent the Hunt tool has a plate(s) fixed with respect to the casing against which a hydraulic force is exerted upward against a plate(s) that is attached to the grapple; unlike it, it has a series of enclosed cylinders, and thus need not rely on the casing itself to contain the hydraulic fluid laterally, nor are the "pistons" attached either to the string from above or to the grapple beneath but are here the element that is fixed to the casing. Like the device described in the Lawrence patent it has a series of enclosed cylinders as well as the other principal features in which Lawrence resembles Costello; unlike it it has vertically mobile cylinders that are attached to the grapple, and pistons that are attached neither to the string nor to the grapple; it also has a number of other features which appellees concede may be patentable improvements over the Lawrence device. Its resemblance to the Davis patent on which it allegedly relies is limited to the fact that the Davis patent too may suggest a device consisting of more than one vertically arranged set of paired plates — the feature in which it is said to anticipate the Lawrence patent.

The district court, after studying many exhibits, including a visit to the Hunt plant for a look at a full scale model of appellants' tool, and after hearing much expert testimony, decided in substance that:

1. The Costello patent is valid though...

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