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AINSWORTH v. GILL GLASS & FIXTURE CO.

December 13, 1938

AINSWORTH
v.
GILL GLASS & FIXTURE CO.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KIRKPATRICK

This is a suit for patent infringement, and for unfair competition in copying the form of the commercial article.

The patent in suit is U.S. No. 1,957,192, May 1, 1934, to Ainsworth, the plaintiff, for an electric lighting fixture of the semi-indirect class. "Semi-indirect" describes a fixture in which some of the light is transmitted through a translucent bowl and the balance reflected from the ceiling.

 1. In designing a fixture of this type, adapted to a powerful electric bulb, a thing to be avoided is a noticeable contrast between the light and the "surround." Such contrasts, all agree, are unpleasant and hurtful to the eyes, especially in drafting-rooms, libraries and the like where there are many lights and where glare may be aggravated by reflections from polished tables. Of course, the primary object is plenty of light -- as much as possible -- but you do not want a glaring bowl or an intensely bright spot on the ceiling. As the plaintiff puts it, "If we can make a fixture whose ability to control brightness is such that the surface liminosity of the reflector barely fades into the average brightness of the ceiling, we will have a panorama under which the eye is happy." This states the purpose of the patent. The plaintiff evolved the idea from a study of the lighting of nature, but I do not suppose that he means to say that his approach was original with him or that he was the first to realize that a light, diffused like sunlight, would be a good light. Unquestionably he has designed a fixture which is highly efficient, is attractive in appearance, and comes as near to getting the desired result as any to be found in the art. Whether doing so involved in his case more than ordinary engineering skill and artistic taste is the question upon which the validity of the patent depends.

 All six claims of the patent are in suit. Claims 3, 5 and 6 are confined to the principal element of the fixture.

 Claim 5 is: "A reflector for semi-indirect lighting comprising a shallow coneshaped body of translucent material, the thickness of the body increasing from the periphery to the vertex."

 Claim 3 states the same idea conversely and adds that the increase in thickness is gradual. Claim 6 states it a little differently, allowing for painting or pigmentation of the glass, as well as thickening, to reduce transmitted light.

 Claims 1, 2, and 4 claim the bowl in combination with the other parts of the fixture and add the idea that the light bulb is to be positioned in proximity (claim 4) or in close proximity (claims 1 and 2) to the bowl.

 There is no serious question as to infringement. Both in mechanical structure and in general appearance the defendant's fixture is a close copy of the plaintiff's commercial fixture, and is squarely within the claims of the patent. There may be some doubt whether the glass rosette which the defendant has applied to the apex of his cone comes within the "gradually" requirements of claims 3 and 4, but on the whole I think that it does. At any rate, there is no doubt whatever about the infringement of the other claims, and I make the finding that the patent, if valid, would be infringed by the defendant's structure.

 All the elements claimed in combination are old in the art. There were plenty of cone-shaped bowls, and, as will appear, the conical shape is not even asserted by the plaintiff as a functional element. Shallow bowls of various shapes (including conse) were also not uncommon, as may be seem in the Ferlux and Druid bowls, and in some of the fixtures of the Swedish and German catalogues. The plaintiff concedes that it was also old to thicken bowls at the apex or nadir in order to reduce the amount of light transmitted when the light source was placed close to the bowl at that point. The plaintiff's own pressed-glass, helmet-shaped bowl, made for him by the Macbeth-Evans Company and sold in large quantities before his date of invention, also had this feature for this same purpose. I do not find in the prior art the precise combination of a shallow conical bowl with a thickened apex.

 At first impression one would say that in a highly developed art of this kind where the number of available shapes for reflectors is obviously limited, it would not require invention to select a shallow conical form and apply to it a perfectly well known and obvious expedient to avoid an unpleasantly bright spot where the lamp comes close to it. There are, however, some features of this case which make it worth while to consider the question a little more at length. These features are a rather striking record of commercial success and something about the plaintiff's fixture, not easily definable, which makes it seem to stand out from the prior art, to which may be added the presumption of validity arising from the grant of the patent.

 Commercial success is often useful evidence of invention, provided it can be shown to be the result of what was patented. This is a mechanical, not a design, patent, and I am inclined to think that the plaintiff's design, with its candid lines, its light and rather delicate form, its slender, metallic supporting rod and closefitting socket covering, is what really sold an otherwise very efficient fixture. The plaintiff has contrived, not only to make an efficient fixture, but to make one that looks efficient and at the same time extremely attractive.

 I think the plaintiff must have been aware of the difficulty which any court would have in finding invention in his combination, because at the trial, through his expert, he endeavored to develop a theory that his patent solved an acute problem which had arisen in the illuminating engineering field as a result of the increase in the power of the electric light bulbs. There was such an increase at about the time that he brought out his fixture, the 150-watt bulbs being displaced by 300 and 400-watt and even higher powered bulbs. The witness said, in effect, that in the earlier art you could get excellent results with almost any kind of bowl (he selected a hemisphere for example) provided you kept the light source rather high. The light diffused to the ceiling would not be diminished by cross reflections, as it would if the bulb was located deep in the bowl, and of course the light transmitted through the bowl would be practically uniform because the bulb was equidistant from it at all points.

 When the bulbs were increased in power, the area of the light source (the filaments) was extended vertically, thus upsetting the balance of angles and dimensions, and making alterations of design necessary to prevent direct light from reaching the eye. If, to meet this difficulty, the sides of the bowl are extended upward (making it more than a hemisphere) a good deal of diffused light will be lost by cross reflections in the bowl and by interference by the bulb and socket. So, instead, the socket cover was lengthened and the bowl made shallower, which meant bringing the bottom closer to ...


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