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FEDERAL PAC. ELEC. CO. v. WADSWORTH ELEC. MFG. CO.

June 11, 1963

FEDERAL PACIFIC ELECTRIC COMPANY
v.
WADSWORTH ELECTRIC MFG. CO., Inc., et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KIRKPATRICK

This is an infringement suit brought by the plaintiff, assignee of United States Patent No. 2,647,225, issued July 28, 1953, to Cole and Christensen. Both the plaintiff and the defendant are manufacturers of electrical devices. The subject matter of the patent is a panel on which are mounted automatic circuit breakers. The assembly is called a 'load center' and is intended to perform (principally in residences and apartment houses) the same function as the conventional fuse box, the circuit breakers taking the place of the fuses.

The issues in the case are the usual ones of validity and infringement.

 The internal mechanism of the circuit breakers is not involved, the invention having to do with the way in which they are mounted upon the panel, conjointly with the manner of their insertion into the electric circuit.

 The claims in suit are Nos. 1, 13 to 18, inclusive, and 20 to 25, inclusive. The plaintiff has selected claim 18 for presentation and analysis in its brief and that claim will be accepted as representative. It is as follows:

 '18. A distribution panel board, comprising an electrical panel, and a plurality of automatic circuit breakers releasably mounted thereon, said panel having plug-in electric terminal securing means carried thereby and circuit breaker holding means disposed laterally of and spaced from said plug-in electric terminal securing means so that a plurality of circuit breakers may be mounted in side-by-side relation on said panel in endwise positions between said holding means and said plug-in electric terminal securing means, each of said circuit breakers having a casing provided with complementary holding means and complementary plug-in electric terminal securing means spaced from each other endwise of the circuit breaker casing, said panel holding means and said circuit breaker holding means having releasable mutually interengaging portions to position the adjacent end of the circuit breaker casing on the panel and prevent lateral movement of said adjacent end on the panel and said plug-in terminal securing means of the panel for a companion circuit breaker being disposed in lateral alignment with the holding means of the panel for such companion breaker so that when it is engaged by the plug-in terminal securing means of the circuit breaker the opposite end of the latter is positioned on the panel and releasably held against lateral movement thereon whereby to releasably hold the plurality of breakers in parallel side-by-side relation, said holding means and plug-in electrical terminal securing means of the panel also having parts which engage the companion breakers to releasably oppose removal thereof from the panel, the panel holding means comprising a plurality of hook-like elements and the complementary holding means on the circuit breakers comprising recessed portions in which said hooklike elements are engaged, each circuit breaker being mountable in position on said panel by first engaging its complementary holding means with the panel holding means and then pivotally moving the circuit breaker on said panel with said panel holding means as a fulcrum to engage the plug-in electrical terminal securing means of the circuit breaker with the plug-in electric terminal securing means of the panel.'

 The language of this and most of the other claims is about as complicated and prolix as language describing a comparatively simple invention could be made. The patented structure as disclosed by the specification consists of a panel with a number of single pole circuit breakers mounted on it in two parallel rows on either side of a centrally located bus bar, and releasably attached. Each is pivoted at one end and furnished at the other with a projecting conductor which may be brought into contact with the bus bar and held there frictionally, thus completing the electric circuit. This projecting conductor may, as shown by the specification and drawings, take the form of either a notched, three-fingered, resilient prong or a single blade.

 When installed, the end of each circuit breaker away from the bus bar is secured to the panel by a rigid hook protruding from the panel which engages a recess in the circuit breaker, the two constituting a pivot on which the circuit breaker may turn. The 'load' terminal (meaning the terminal connected to the house wiring) is the conventional screw terminal. The ends of the circuit breakers adjacent to the bus bar are held in contact with it, in the 'prong' form, by 'stabbing' the prong into an appropriately sized opening in the bus bar or, in the 'blade' form, by inserting the single blade projection between spring-loaded jaws on the bus bar which will hold it securely when it is forced between them.

 When a circuit breaker is to be installed on the panel, the hook of the panel is first engaged in the recess of the circuit breaker, the other end of the circuit breaker being tilted upward. The circuit breaker is then turned upon the hook as a pivot and the prong or blade is inserted into the bus bar so that it serves as the electric terminal for conducting the current from the power mains through the circuit breaker to the house wiring. The claims cover, more or less broadly, this construction and its obvious equivalents.

 The inventor, Cole, on the witness stand pointed out a number of advantages which he believed were to be found in the patented structure. Without attempting to evaluate these advantages, it may be assumed that the mechanism is superior in convenience and economy to anything on the market at the time when it appeared. This, however, is not enough to confer patentability upon it. 'It is not sufficient that the combination be superior to what went before in producing a more convenient and economical mechanism. * * * Where a patentee combines the best features of old structures without the disadvantages of any of them, resulting in a substantial improvement in performance over anything which had gone before, it must be found, in order to sustain the patent, that the increase of efficiency of the new combination is an "unusual or surprising' consequence of the unification', * * * or yields some 'surprising or extraordinary result', General Motors Corp. v. Estate Stove Co., 6 Cir., 203 F.2d 912, 917.

 A glance at the cited and offered examples of prior art will show that every element of the invention in suit was old and, furthermore, that each of the old elements performed exactly the same function in its old assembly that it performs in the patent in suit. *fn1"

 Load centers consisting of a plurality of circuit breakers, releasably attached to a panel in rows on opposite sides of a central bus bar, are old in the art, appearing in numerous prior patents, for example, Jennings No. 1,872,296 and Pokorny No. 2,319,262.

 Making an electrical contact by mounting one end of an element and swinging the other end, as on a hinge, into contact with the source of current is present in the conventional knife switch and appears in connection with a distribution panel in Krantz No. 755,141.

 As to the means by which contact with the bus bar is established, it is first to be noted that none of the claims in suit call specifically for a prong (either with or without notches) or other member adapted to be inserted into and releasably engaged with the bus bar. However, the plug-in method of establishing an electrical connection, by means of a blade releasably inserted into either jaws or an aperture, is embodied in countless electrical devices of household use and, if a disclosure in the patented art be required, one can be found in the Mylius patent No. 2,088,480. What the claims in suit call for is a member described in varying terms, all providing for the connection in language no more specific than 'plug-in electric terminal securing means.' Thus it cannot be argued that this element of the claims is anything but old. So far as the claims are concerned, I draw no distinction between mounting the blade or prong on the circuit breaker with the jaws or other receiving means on the bus bar and mounting ...


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