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decided: November 12, 1923.



Author: Taft

[ 263 U.S. Page 51]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TAFT delivered the opinion of the Court.

This suit in the Court of Claims was brought under the authority of a special act of Congress of March 2, 1901, 31 Stat. 1788, by which the claim of William E. Woodbridge, for compensation from the United States for use of his alleged invention relating to projectiles for rifled cannon, for which a patent was ordered issued by the Government, was referred to the Court of Claims to hear and determine, first, whether Woodbridge was the first and original inventor, and, second, to what extent the United States had used it and the amount of compensation which was due in equity and justice therefor, and if it found that Woodbridge was such inventor, to decide the case as if a patent had issued for seventeen years in 1852, the year in which it had been ordered to issue, with the right of appeal as in other causes -- "Provided, however, That the said court shall first be satisfied that the said Woodbridge did not forfeit, or abandon, his right to a patent, by publication, delay, laches, or otherwise; and that the said patent was wrongly refused to be issued by the Patent Office." The Court of Claims heard the case, made findings of fact and held that the petition must be dismissed on two grounds, first, that Woodbridge had forfeited or abandoned his right to a patent by his delay or laches, and, second, that the United States had not used his invention.

From the findings of fact, it appears that Woodbridge was a man skilled in the science of projectiles and an inventor of genius and experience. In February, 1852, he filed an application for a patent for an invention which he described as consisting of "applying to a projectile to be fired from a rifled gun a rifle-ring, or sabot, in the manner hereinafter described, for the purpose of giving to the projectile the rifle motion." The Patent Office

[ 263 U.S. Page 52]

     advised him that the use of sabots or rings of soft metal applied to iron balls was known for either smooth bore or rifled guns, but after discussion allowed him two claims, the first for a smooth ring for a smooth bore cannon, and the second for a ring with exterior projections to fit into the rifled cannon, for the purpose of diminishing windage, and giving the projectile a motion in direction of the axis of the bore.

In a letter of March 23, 1852, Woodbridge wrote the Patent Commissioner, with the claims amended in the form in which the Patent Office had agreed to allow them, and said:

"I was informed, in answer to my inquiry, that upon the issue, or order to issue, of a patent, it may be filed in the secret archives of your office (at the risk of the patentee) for such time as he may desire. I wish to avail myself of this privilege when my patent may issue, in order that my ability to take out a patent in a foreign country may not be affected by the publication of the invention. If it is necessary to specify a particular time during which the patent shall remain in the secret archives, you will please consider one year as the time designated by me."

To this, on April 15, 1852, the Patent Office answered that a patent had been ordered to issue on his application and, in accordance with his request, the papers were filed among the secret archives of the office, subject to his directions as to the time of issuing them. This was done presumably under ยง 8 of the Act of July 4, 1836, 5 Stat. 121, which contains the following provision:

"And whenever the applicant shall request it, the patent shall take date from the time of the filing of the specification and drawings, not however exceeding six months prior to the actual issuing of the patent; and on like request, and the payment of the duty herein required, by any applicant, his specification and drawings shall be

[ 263 U.S. Page 53]

     filed in the secret archives of the office until he shall furnish the model and the patent be issued, not exceeding the term of one year, the applicant being entitled to notice of interfering applications."

After the filing of the papers in the secret archives before April 15, 1852, nothing was done either by Woodbridge or the Patent Office for nine years and a half, when, on December 31, 1861, Woodbridge wrote to the Commissioner of Patents calling attention to his invention in 1850 and his application for a patent in 1852, the order of the office to issue the patent and the filing of the papers in the secret archives. He said:

"I have allowed it to remain until the present time, it being only lately that any immediate opportunity of rendering it pecuniarily available has occurred."

The fourth finding of the Court of Claims was as follows:

"The reason of said Woodbridge for his delay in requesting issue of the patent allowed him was, as stated by him in communications to the Patent Office, that he thought that course best fitted to enable him to avail himself of the value of the patent, as by procuring delay in the issue of the patent the wants of the Government might demand the invention before the patent should expire, and that as the invention could be made available only by the necessities and action of the Government, he thought the intent of the law that the inventor should have 14 years' exclusive use of his invention could in no other way be so well attained in the case of this particular invention 'as by deferring the issue of the patent to a time when it could be brought into practical use.'"

In the same letter in which Woodbridge asked the issue of the patent he requested that he be permitted to amend his specifications and claims and broaden them so as to cover the use in a rifle of the sabot or ring without the ...

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