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Huntman Stabilizer Corp. v. General Motors Corp.

August 31, 1944


Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the District of New Jersey; James Alger Fee, Judge.

Author: Goodrich

Before JONES and GOODRICH, Circuit Judges and GANEY, District Judge.

GOODRICH, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff, Huntman Stabilizer Corporation (herein called Huntman) sued the defendant, General Motors Corporation (herein called General Motors) for patent infringement. Six patents were originally involved, four are now before us.*fn1 The District Judge upheld the validity of the patents as follows:

1,971,957, claims 1, 2, 3 and 4;

1,971,958, claims 1 and 2;

1,971,959, claims 1 and 2;

1,971,960, claim 6.

He found the plaintiff's patents infringed by the defendant's structure which was designated by the parties as the Oldsmobile type, but found proof of infringement lacking in case of two other structures also manufactured by the defendant, known as the Buick and Chevrolet types. The plaintiff has appealed because of the failure to hold that all three types of structure infringed; the defendant appeals on the ground that it should not be held liable at all.

The patents involved are in the general filed of those which provide safety and comfort for occupants of road driven vehicles. It is a filed in which many have sown and garnered. The particular problems involved in Huntman's patents and the defendant's structure are describable in non-technical language. If a vehicle has stiff springs, like the early automobile or a jeep, there is little yielding when a wheel hits an obstacle or depression in the road. The impact is transferred to the contents, passenger or freight, of the vehicle. If only one wheel is hit, that corner of the vehicle is raised, the floor tips. If softer springs are used, they respond to the road shock and take a measure of it from the occupants of the car. But if an obstacle is hit, especially at high speed, there is danger that the recoil may break the spring. In any event, the sudden depression and expansion of the spring will bounce the passengers badly even though they are relieved of the jar of the first impact. It is apparent that there are two objects to be attained in order to secure riding comfort and safety. One is a means for permitting a gradual recoil of springs to avoid bounce. The other is a way to distribute a shock received by one wheel or the wheels on one side of a vehicle between the two sides to keep it level and prevent roll. Huntman claims, in the words of his counsel, to have been "the first to invent the combination of a pair of recoil-check or snubber shock absorbers and a connecting means to distribute and equalize the shocks between them and to permit equally the more gradual recoil of the springs."

The plaintiff does not claim to be the inventor either of the shock absorbers or the connecting means. Shock absorbers were well known in 1925 when the first of the patents here involved was applied for, and, as every car owner knows, are standard equipment today.

A connecting means for equalizing the strain upon springs of vehicles was patented in 1882 by Francis Ezell, No. 260,960. His patent was for a combination of a transverse shaft and springs whereby the play or stroke of the springs would be regulated, and the pair of springs would move in unison at all times and under all stages so that if a wagon were loaded unevenly or the pressure were greater on one side than on the other, both springs would be affected equally through the connecting shaft and the wagon bed would be evenly depressed on both sides. This device was also aimed at preventing "the springs from breaking when expanding in suddenly unloading the wagon (by dumping its load, for example) or from the reaction of the spring when the vehicle [passed] * * * over ruts in the ground, thus operating as a brace to strengthen the several connecting parts." Obviously, unlike plaintiff's patents, this one does not include shock absorbers and hence there is no gradual dampening or check of the recoil.But these are differences peculiar to shock absorbers and not to plaintiff's claimed invention. The distribution is present, though it is true that the regulation is of the stroke of the springs rather than of the gradual dampening and check of the recoil.

The general propositions of law applicable to combination patents are not difficult either to state or to understand. A combination is a union of elements, some of which may be old and others new or all old or all new. It is the combination which is the invention. Leeds & Catlin Co. v. Victor Talking Machine Co., 1909, 213 U.S. 301, 29 S. Ct. 495, 53 L. Ed. 805. But the result must be the combination and not a mere aggregation of several results, each the complete product of one of the combined elements. It must be the product of the coacting influences of the various elements and which is produced by their union. Hartman Furniture & Carpet Co. v. Banning, 7 Cir., 1932, 59 F.2d 129, certiorari denied 1932, 287 U.S. 659, 53 S. Ct. 121, 77 L. Ed. 560. A number of old parts or elements which, in the aggregation, perform or produce no new or different function or operation than that theretofore performed or produced by them is not patentable invention. Lincoln Engineering Co. v. Stewart-Warner Corp., 1938, 303 U.S. 545, 58 S. Ct. 662, 82 L. Ed. 1008; Toledo Pressed Steel Co. v. Standard Parts, Inc., 1939, 307 U.S. 350, 59 S. Ct. 897, 83 L. Ed. 1334; Detroit Stoker Co. v. Brownell Co., 6 Cir., 1937, 89 F.2d 422; General Machinery Corporation v. Clearing Mach. Corporation, 7 Cir., 1938, 99 F.2d 20. Cf. Prosperity Co., Inc., v. American Machine & Metals, Inc., 3 Cir., 1944, 142 F.2d 800.

Like many other rules, it is easier to state than to apply. Such application will be attempted later. But first the plaintiff's patents must be examined. No. 1,971,957 is the first in order. It was applied for in 1925, granted August 28, 1934. The next in order is 1,971,958, applied ...

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