Woodcock obtained a patent for
machine that split leather. Later, he found out that Parker was using a
similar machine. Woodcock sued for infringement.
Parker argued that
Woodcock's patent was invalid because one of his relatives, Samuel Parker
already had already invented a similar machine that David Parker was
Woodcock argued that he had
no idea that Samuel Parker had invented a similar machine (this being
before the internet), and that he had invented the machine himself.
The Trial Court found for
The Trial Court found that
Woodcock's patent was invalid because it had already been invented by
Samuel Parker. (aka prior invention)
The fact that Woodcock
didn't know about Parker's patent was not relevant.
The Court found that one
part of Woodcock's invention (a spring plate) was an improvement over
Parker's. However, all that entitled Woodcock to was a patent on the improvement. Woodcock's patent for the entire
leather-splitting machine was too broad.
"The first inventor is
entitled to the benefit of his invention, if he reduce it to practice and
obtain a patent therefore, and a subsequent inventor cannot, by obtaining
a patent therefore, oust the first inventor of his right, or maintain an
action against him for the use of his own invention."
This case represents the
origin of the first to invent rule
(now codified in 35 U.S.C. §102(a)), which is only followed
by the US.
Almost all other countries
follow the first to file rule.