Open main menu

United States Supreme Court

105 U.S. 566

Packing Company Cases

The patent granted to William J. Wilson does not specify what kind of box or case was required, nor what kind of meat was to be used in its processes, whether corned or fresh, nor in what manner or by what process it was to be compacted in the case or box, provided sufficient force was used to remove the air and all superfluous moisture and make the meat form a solid cake, nor the degree of warmth necessary in the meat when it was put in the case or box. Neither does it state the methody by which the case is to be sealed up. It is simply required to be 'closed air-tight upon the meat,' the air having first been excluded from the case by cramming the latter full of meat.

The patent, therefore, apparently covers only the process of cooking meat by boiling, and while it is still warm pressing it compactly in cases and sealing it up air-tight.

The second disclaimer of Wilson is a substantial admission that his patent only covers the process in which the boiling of the meat is one of the elements. That is to say, any one may pack cooked meat for transportation by compressing it while heated with cooking into air-tight hermetically sealed packages, so as to preserve it in its integrity and retain all its natural juices and nutritious qualities, substantially as set forth in the patent, and not infringe the patent, provided he does not cook the meat by boiling. If any other method of cooking the meat should be adopted, there would be no infringement.

The patentee and the complainants, it appears, were indc ed to make this disclaimer by the evidence introduced by the defendants in this case, especially the patent of A. S. Lyman, dated June 22, 1869, 'for an improved mode of preparing and pressing roast meat in a condensed and concentrated form,' and it amounts to an admission that they could not sustain the process covered by their patent, except as applied to boiled meats.

We are clearly of opinion that a change in the mode of cooking the meat from broiling, roasting, or steaming to boiling, all the other parts of the process remaining unchanged, cannot be called invention, and does not entitle the party who suggests the change to a patent for the process. 'All improvement is not invention, and entitled to protection as such. Thus to entitle it, it ought to be the product of some exercise of the inventive faculties, and it must involve something more than what is obvious to persons skilled in the art.' Pearce v. Mulford, 102 U.S. 112. See also Rubber-Tip Pencil Company v. Howard, 20 Wall. 498; Hotchkiss v. Greenwood, 11 How. 248; Stimpson v. Woodman, 10 Wall. 117.

If meat cooked by roasting or steaming, and put up in a given mode, formed a valuable article of commerce, the cooking of the meat in other ways, as, for instance, by boiling, would naturally occur to any one engaged in the business of packing such food for the market.

But we think there is nothing new in the process covered by the patent under consideration. Clearly, all its separate elements are old and well known, and have been long used. This is not controverted. The evidence shows that the process of boiling meat, packing it while warm in cans, and sealing it air-tight, had long been used before the original application of Wilson. There is, it is true, much conflict in the evidence, but, taken all together, it leaves no doubt in our minds that the process of cooking meat, lobsters, and other articles of food by boiling, and, while warm from the cooking, compacting them in cans, which are then sealed up air-tight, was practised in many places and for many years before his application.

Complainants, however, insist that there are two elements in their process which, taken in connection with the others above mentioned, form a combination never used before the date of his patent.

The first of these is the subjecting of the cases, after they are packed and sealed air-tight, to what is known as the Appert process. This consists of placing in hot water the cans, after they have been filled and sealed up, and thereby heating them. They are then removed and punctured, and the heated air and gases in the cans are allowed to escape. The puncture is immediately closed by a drop of solder.

The contention is that all this is made a part of the process covered by the Wilson patent, by the description of the new article of merchandise covered by the second claim as 'cooked meat' 'in hermetically sealed packages.' It is insisted that the term 'hermetically sealed packages' implies amoung these dealing in canned goods, that the packages have been subjected to the Appert process.

We think that this is an unwarrantable stretch of the meaning of that claim. The article of merchandise which it covers is produced by the process disclosed by the specification and first claim. The second claim expressly states that it covers cooked meat put up in solid form, &c., 'in hermetically sealed packages, as set forth.'

Recurring to the specification and first claim, we are not left in doubt about what, as there set forth, is the process of sealing the cases or cans hermetically. The invention is declared to consist in a process for packing cooked meats into an air-tight package. The method of doing this is thus described: 'A measured quantity of this cooked meat is, while yet warm with cooking, pressed by any suitable apparatus into a previously prepared box or case with sufficient force to remove the air and all superfluous moisture and make the meat form a solid cake. The box or case is then closed air-tigt upon the meat.' The process is simply to exclude the air from the case by filling it compactly with cooked meat still warm, so that the cover, when applied, will rest on the meat, and then closing the case by fitting on the cover air-tight.

There is no suggestion here of anything further to be done to make the package a hermetically sealed one. The process described leaves it hermetically sealed. There is no hint that the Appert process is to be subsequently applied as a part of the process covered by the patent. On the contrary, that idea is excluded by the terms of the second claim, 'hermetically sealed, as set forth.'

It is further contended by the appellants that the process disclosed by the patent includes the cooking of the meat to be canned by plunging it into water already heated to the boiling-point. That is, the process of cooking is commenced by placing the meat in water already heated up to 212° Fahrenheit. By this method of cooking, it is said that the meat is preserved in its integrity, and all its natural juices and nutritious qualities are retained.

We think that the plan of beginning this process of cooking, by putting the meat in water already heated to the boiling-point, is not set forth in the specification or claims. The conditions that they prescribe would just as well be filled by placing the meat in cold water which is then heated to the boiling-point, and allowing the meat to remain in it until cooked thoroughly. No person, on reading them, could extract the idea that there was any advantage to be gained by heating the water to the boiling-point before placing the meat in it to be cooked, or that any such method was in the mind of the inventor. This part of the process is clearly an afterthought, and not intended by him to be covered by this patent when he applied for it. It is evident that the part now under consideration is nowhere described in the specification in full, clear, and exact terms, as required by law. On the contrary, it is not described at all.

The Appert process, and the cooking of meats by plunging them into water already heated to the boiling-point, may be of great advantage to the canned meats put up by the complainants, and their alleged superiority to the products of other parties may be attributed to these practices. But the trouble with complainants' case is that these elements are not included in the process disclosed by the patent which they allege is infringed by the defendants.

Out conclusion is, therefore, that there is nothing new in the process described in the patent. All the elements of the process are old. They are merely aggregated, and the aggregation brings out no new product, nor does it bring out any old product in a cheaper or otherwise more advantageous way. This disposes of the first claim of the patent under consideration. If that claim cannot stand, it follows that the second claim, which is for the product made by the employment of the process described in the first claim, is also invalid.

We are of opinion, therefore, that the patent is void for want of invention and for want of novelty in the process described therein.

We shall next consider that branch of the case which rests on the letters-patent to John A. Wilson for improvements in metallic cans for containing cooked meats.

The defences set up to this branch of complainants' case are, that the devices covered by the patent are not new, and that the defendants do not infringe.

The evidence clearly shows that none of the defendants use cans 'with offset ends to support the heads, said heads being secured as shown and described' in the patent. The cans which they use are made by turning a flange of the head down over the outside of the shell of the can, and fastening the head in place with solder. This method of fastening the heads and bottoms of the cans was practised by Gibbie and Perl before the date of Wilson's application for his patent. It was also described in the fifth addition of the French patent of Emile Peltier, dated April 1, 1859.

All, therefore, that is left to consider is whether the shape of the can described in the patent is new, and whether the defendants use it.

The shape of the can described in the patent is pyramidal, with round corners, and with four or more sides.

It is admitted on the record by counsel for the complainants that, prior to the date of the Wilson patents, conical tin cans were made and used for canning alimentary substances, and sealed air-tight.

If it be conceded that the change of a conical can to a pyramidal can, with rounded corners, involves invention, the complainants are met with distinct and unequivocal evidence that cans used for containing preserved food, and closed air-tight, having four or more sides and pyramidal in form, with rounded corners, were mentioned in the fifth addition to the patent of Emile Peltier, before referred to, and that the machinery for making them was therein described.

The cans used by the defendant the St. Louis Beef-Packing Company, and by the defendants Robert D. Hunter and others, and the Chicago Packing and Provision Company, are all included in the descriptions of the Peltier patent. The defence of want of novelty set up by the defendants against the first claim of the patent must therefore prevail.

What has been said leaves nothing for the third claim of the patent to rest on.

There is nothing new either in the shape, construction, or material of his cans. There is in the record abundant evidence that, long before the date of his patent, cooked meat was packed in cans, so that they served as a mould for the meat, and the meat formed a solid cake. The use of a pyramidal can, which was old, for the purpose of receiving the meat cake, which was also old, involved no invention.

The use of vessels with flaring sides, as receptacles and moulds for edible substances, is as old as the art of cookery.

Our conclusion is that both the first and third claims of the patent are void for want of novelty.

The result of the views expressed is that the action of the court below dismissing the bills of complaint was right.

Decrees affirmed.

NOTE.-Packing Company v. Clapp, appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois, was argued at the same time with the cases disposed of in the foregoing opinion, and by the same counsel. It involved the validity of both claims of the reissued patent of William J. Wilson, and the first and third claims of the reissued patent of John A. Wilson. Upon these questions the opinions of the judges of the court below were divided, and a decree dismissing the bill was thereupon entered in accordance with the opinion of the presiding judge.

MR. JUSTICE WOODS, in giving the opinion of the court, remarked, that the views expressed in the foregoing cases disposed of this case.

Decree affirmed.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).