Graham v. John Deere Co.
383 U.S. 1 (1966)

  • Graham invented a new shock-absorber doo-dad to add to tractors. He got a patent. A few years later, he made an improvement to the doo-dad and got a patent on the improvement.
  • When John Deere began using a similarly improved doo-dad on their tractors, Graham sued for infringement.
    • John Deere argued that Graham's patent on the improvement was invalid because it failed the test for nonobviousness.
  • The Trial Court found for John Deere. Graham appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. John Deere appealed.
  • In a similar case, Cook Chemical was the holder of a patent on spray bottles. Colgate sued to have Cook's patent declared invalid for because it failed the test for nonobviousness.
  • The US Supreme Court consolidated the cases.
  • The US Supreme Court invalidated both patents.
    • The US Supreme Court looked to the Intellectual Property Clause (Art. I, 8, cl. 8), and found that patents were only intended for those inventions which were new, useful, and furthered human knowledge, rather than for small details and obvious improvements.
    • The Court looked to 35 U.S.C. 103, which codifies the nonobvious requirement, and found that the factors for determining nonobiousness include:
      • The scope and content of the prior art;
      • The differences between the claimed invention and the prior art;
      • The level of ordinary skill in the prior art;
      • Secondary considerations:
        • Commercial success;
        • Long felt but unsolved needs; and
        • Failure of others.
      • These factors are now known as the Graham Factors.
    • The Court applied these factors to the two cases. They found both patents invalid because they were obvious.
      • The Court found that Graham's invention served the same purpose as those in the prior art.
        • Technically, they found that Graham's improvement would be obvious to anyone who read Graham's original patent. So his own patent was used as prior art against his new patent.
      • The Court found that differences between Cook's design and the prior art were too minor and non-technical to be nonobvious.