Lowell v. Lewis
15 F.Cas. 1019 (1817)

  • Perkins invented an improvement to a water pump and got a patent on it. He sold the patent to Lowell.
  • A little later, Baker invented a similar improvement and got a patent on it, which he sold to Lewis.
  • Lowell sued Lewis for infringement.
    • Lewis argued that Perkins' invention was not any better than what was already on the market. Therefore it was not useful and didn't deserve a patent.
      • It was 'different' and 'not obvious' but it wasn't 'better'.
  • The Court found for Lewis.
    • The Court found that to warrant a patent, the invention must be useful.
      • The Court defined useful as something that is capable of some beneficial use, in contradistinction to what is pernicious, or frivolous, or worthless. (aka moral utility)
        • It also has to actually work. (aka practical utility)
    • The Court found that useful doesn't mean 'better', it just means 'different'.
      • "A new invention to poison people, or to promote debauchery, or to facilitate private assassination, is not a patentable invention. But if the invention steers wide of these objections, whether it be more or less useful is a circumstance very material to the interests of the patentee, but of no importance to the public."
      • Basically, even if the pump wasn't as good as other pumps on the market it is still patentable.
        • There is a public policy reason for having people disclose inventions so that they can be used as building blocks for potentially better inventions in the future.
        • Also, it is hard to judge what is 'better'. An invention might be worse for most things, but better for one specific thing.
  • This case is important because it defined the usefulness requirement.
    • The modern standard for usefulness is found in 35 U.S.C. 101.
    • See Juicy Whip, Inc. v. Orange Bang, Inc. (185 F.3d 1364 (1999)).