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Tilghman v. Proctor (102 U.S. 707, 1880)

Decision Parameters

Decisions It Cites

    Neilson v. Harford [:UK:151 ER 1266, 1841]

Decisions That Cite It

    O'Reilly v. Morse [56 U.S. 15, 1853]
    Corning v. Burden [56 U.S. 252, 1853]
    Gottschalk v. Benson [409 U.S. 63, 1972]

Rules & Quotes

{1} An examination of the patent itself, which the preceding remarks will enable us better to understand, will show, we think, that it was intended to and does cover and secure to the patentee the general process which has been described, although only one particular method of applying and using it is pointed out.

{2} That a patent can be granted for a process, there can be no doubt. The patent law is not confined to new machines and new compositions of matter, but extends to any new and useful art or manufacture. A manufacturing process is clearly an art, within the meaning of the law.

{3} It seems to us that this clear and exact summary of the law affords the key to almost every case that can arise. 'Whoever discovers that a certain useful result will be produced in any art by the use of certain means is entitled to a patent for it, provided he specifies the means.' But everything turns on the force and meaning of the word 'means.' It is very certain that the means need not be a machine, or an apparatus; it may, as the court says, be a process.

{4} A machine is a thing. A process is an act, or a mode of acting. The one is visible to the eye, - an object of perpetual observation. The other is a conception of the mind, seen only by its effects when being executed or performed. Either may be the means of producing a useful result.

{5} The mixing of certain substances together, or the heating of a substance to a certain temperature, is a process. If the mode of doing it, or the apparatus in or by which it may be done, is sufficiently obvious to suggest itself to a person skilled in the particular art, it is enough, in the patent, to point out the process to be performed, without giving supererogatory directions as to the apparatus or method to be employed. If the mode of applying the process is not obvious, then a description of a particular mode by which it may be applied is sufficient. There is, then, a description of the process and of one practical mode in which it may be applied. Perhaps the process is susceptible of being applied in many modes and by the use of many forms of apparatus. The inventor is not bound to describe them all in order to secure to himself the exclusive right to the process, if he is really its inventor or discoverer. But he must describe some particular mode, or some apparatus, by which the process can be applied with at least some beneficial result, in order to show that it is capable of being exhibited and performed in actual experience.

{6} In the first place, the claim of the patent is not for a mere principle. The chemical principle or scientific fact upon which it is founded is, that the elements of neutral fat require to be severally united with an atomic equivalent of water in order to separate from each other and become free. This chemical fact was not discovered by Tilghman. He only claims to have invented a particular mode of bringing about the desired chemical union between the fatty elements and water. He does not claim every mode of accomplishing this result.

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