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June 3, 1938


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KIRKPATRICK

My conclusion is that the bill must be dismissed. I will briefly state the facts as I understand them, and add a statement of my reasons for the conclusion.

The bill states a number of causes of action.First is the alleged infringement of two patents for the mechanical structure of a padlock; second, the alleged infringement of two design patents; third, the alleged infringement of a registered trademark; and fourth, a charge of unfair competition.

 The general fact background is as follows: The plaintiff is a corporation which I shall call Slaymaker, and the defendant is an individual whom I shall call Reese. The parties are both engaged in the manufacture of padlocks, have been for a number of years, both located in the same town, and are and have been for a long time in direct competition with one another. During that time both have been constantly engaged in improving their product and in bringing out new forms of padlocks, some of which have been patented and others not.

 In the early part of 1934 the plaintiff made and sold (but did not then patent) two new types which were designed especially to meet a need for a cheap lock available for sale to chain stores. Shortly before this there had been developed a less expensive alloy metal which could be adapted to die casting -- a method of manufacture which could be more advantageously used than those in use prior to that time.

 The first sale of what are known as its cylinder locks was made by the plaintiff on May 18, 1934, and the first sale of its warded locks on July 27, 1934. These locks were of attractive appearance, substantial, and satisfactory in every particular. They were good sellers to chain stores, and the plaintiff established a rather large business in their sale. The plaintiff also sold to retailers and hardware merchants, but, as I understand the testimony, the bulk of the sale of these locks was for the chain store trade. They were supposed to sell at 25 and 20 cents apiece, respectively.

 Late in 1935 or early in 1936, Reese brought out two locks closely resembling Slaymaker's, both in mechanical structure and in outward appearance. He offered them to the chain stores at a lower price than the plaintiff, and began to cur into the plaintiff's business. The plaintiff first got knowledge of the defendant's sales and first began to feel the competition in the early part of 1936. Thereupon, a little less than two years after it had put the locks on the market, its president applied for the various patents in suit, and at the same time the plaintiff gave notice to the defendant of the application.

 I have no doubt that Reese had the Slaymaker locks before him when he constructed the alleged infringing articles, and I have no doubt that he intentionally imitated their outside appearance. He may also have imitated the mechanism and internal structure. However, after the notice was received and at a time when suit was threatened but before suit was actually brought, Reese discontinued the manufacture and sale of all locks which imitated the plaintiff's as to the outward appearance. The locks which he has manufactured and sold since that time do not bear any real resemblance to the plaintiff's lock, although the internal construction of them is exactly the same as the locks which the made prior to his receiving notice.

 That, I think, covers the general fact situation so far as it is necessary as an introduction to what follows.

 Taking up the mechanical patents first; my conclusion is that both of these patents are invalid for want of invention. It may be said in a general way that this art reached its point of full development a good many years ago. Anyone who follows through the evidence in this case, which is by no means complete as to the prior art, must realize that for a number of years there has been practically nothing left to develop so far as the operation of the padlocks is concerned, and that the principles governing the actual operation have been understood and carried to a point of near perfection a long time ago, and that the art for a number of years has been at a stage where whatever improvements there are to be made are improvements along the line of structural changes by which the manufacture can be accomplished more easily or more readily, or by the use of cheaper materials, or the elimination of various structural parts so as to make the whole operation of constructing the locks cheaper and simpler. An illustration will be found in the adaptation of the locks to the method of die casting which we see in this case. So that in that field which I refer to as the only field left -- that is cheapening and improving the process of manufacture -- it is plain that the margin of patentability has pretty nearly reached the vanishing point.

 The 570 patent is an illustration of what I have said. All the major instrumentalities of the structure of that patent appear in the prior art. Roughly speaking, the padlock consists of, first, a shackle with its ejecting spring. Then there is a locking mechanism which consists of two main parts, a spring pawl which, when not operated by the key, clamps the shackle and holds it in place in a closed position, and a cylinder which by means of small discs, spring impelled, is held stationary and can only be revolved after a key has been inserted. When the key is revolved, the cylinder is revolved with it, and a cam on the top of the cylinder spreads the legs of the pawl spring and releases the shackle in that way. Another part of this locking mechanism, I suppose, would be the stop for the shackle which prevents it when released from being pulled entirely out of the padlock, in other words, lets it rise to a certain point so that the shorter leg can swing clear, and then holds it there.

 The third major instrumentality, of course, is the casing which, prior to the time of these patents, had been reduced to two major parts -- a part called the casing, and a front plate, or cover plate, which is clamped upon it by some mechanical means. Of course, there has always been an effort to make the padlock as solid as possible and yet leave room for the elements inside the case, and at the same time to use as little metal as is absolutely necessary, and the result of that has been that the casing has been cavitied and abutments have had to be left at various places for the seating of the lid or cover on the casement, so that you have a form of cavitied casing with abutments upon which the cover is seated as an old form in the art. All these major instrumentalities I find in the prior art in substantially the form in which they appear in both of the plaintiff's patents.

 The 571 patent differs in operative principle from the 570 in that, instead of a cylinder which is revolved by drawing certain discs within itself by the key, the end of the key is thrust directly between the legs of the pawl, and when turned, itself operates to spread the legs of the pawl. The things that keep it from turning are a number of small guards or wards which project from the sides of the channel into which the key is thrust, and prevent it from being turned unless the notches of the key correspond precisely with the wards. This, again, is a mechanism which appears in the prior art. See Bohanan, 557,952; Fraim, 1,243,151; Sterling, 1,520,975. Reference may also be had to the stipulated prior art structures, Exhibits D, F and G.

 Of course, I do not find any patent or structure in which everything appears exactly as it does in the plaintiff's two patents, but they are all present in the art, they are all present in combination, and what is most important is that in most of the prior art structures they cooperate and coact in exactly the same way that they do in both the plaintiff's patents. There is no ...

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