Brief Fact Summary. Lippmann (Defendant) fought a patent infringement charge by asserting that Barnes, the original patentee, had allowed the corset steels he had invented to be “in public use” long before he patented them.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. If an inventor gives or sells a device to another with no limitation or restriction, or injunction or secrecy, and it is used, that use is public and places the invention “in public use.”
Similarly, whether the use of an invention is public or private does not necessarily depend upon the number of persons to whom its use is known.View Full Point of Law
Issue. If an inventor gives or sells a device to another with no limitation or restriction, or injunction or secrecy, has the inventor placed the invention “in public use?
Held. (Woods, J.)Â Yes.Â If an inventor gives or sells a device to another with no limitation or restriction, or injunction or secrecy, the inventor has placed the invention “in public use.”Â Whether the use of an invention is private or public does not depend on how many people know of the use.Â Also, it is not necessary that more than one of the patented articles be publicly used to be a public use of an invention.Â Some inventions, like the one at issue here, by their very nature, are able to be used when they cannot be seen or observed by the public eye.Â Even so, if the inventor allows it to be used without any restriction of any kind, the use is a public one.Â According to these principles, the evidence in this case showed there was a public use of the invention.Â Affirmed.
Dissent. (Miller, J.)Â With an article of this nature it may well be imagined that an inventor’s warning not to expose one’s use of the steel spring to public observation would have been a piece of irony.Â However, failure to issue it should not defeat a patent that otherwise has merit.
Discussion. Exposure to public view is not and never has been the test of a public-use bar.Â It is important to recognize that the idea of a public use can be found even if the invention is not observable by the public as consequences today could not be imagined when this case was decided.Â Now it is frequently applied to technological advancements in sophisticated machinery, etc., since the insides are seldom seen by anyone.