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October 1, 1875


APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York. The bill in this case was filed by the assignee of D. W. C. Sanford, alleging an infringement of a patent to Sanford for an improvement in refrigerators. The principal defence relied upon was the prior invention of Lyman. The Circuit Court sustained this defence, and dismissed the bill. From this decree the complainant appealed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Chief Justice Waite delivered the opinion of the court.

Mr. Thomas A. Jenckes and Mr. George F. Seymour for the appellant.

Mr. F. H. Betts for the appellee.

In order that we may proceed intelligently in our inquiries as to the validity of the patent presented for our consideration in this case, it is important to ascertain at the outset what it is that has been patented.

Looking to the original patent, issued Nov. 13, 1855, we find the invention is there described as consisting 'of an improvement in refrigerators, whereby the whole of the contained air is kept in continual rotation, purification, desiccation, and refrigeration, and with economy of ice;' and that the inventor claimed and obtained a patent for 'the arrangement set forth for causing the perpetual rotation of the whole of the air contained within the refrigerating apartments, said arrangement consisting, when the refrigerator is closed, of an endless passage or chamber, the walls, shelves, and ice receptacle of which are so placed and constructed that the air is compelled to circulate through the entire apartment or apartments, and from which the water of the melting ice is discharged immediately from the refrigerator, instead of flowing between its walls.' Mention is nowhere made in the specifications attached to this patent of any advantage which the descending current of air has over the ascending. The whole apparent object of the inventor was to produce a circulation of the confined air without the introduction of external air. The drawings exhibit shelves perforated so as to permit the passage of the air in its downward and upward progress; but the shelves seem only to be alluded to in the specifications, for the purpose of indicating the necessity of their perforation, or of some equivalent arrangement, so as to allow the free transit of the air. They appear as part of the refrigerator to be improved, and are in no respect necessary for the accomplishment of the object the inventor had in view. Being in the refrigerator, they are perforated, or otherwise so arranged as to permit the circulation which the inventor is attempting by his device to create. But for this, they would prevent, or at least interfere with, the accomplishment of his object. The shelves themselves form no part of his improvement; but their perforation or its equivalent, when they are used, does.

In the reissued patent, the invention is described precisely the same as in the old; and then the following is added: 'It is well known that mould will not generate in a current of air; and it is known, that, when once formed, it propagates itself, and spreads with rapidity: therefore, if any one part of the refrigerator be out of the direct course of the circulation, the air will stagnate there, and will develop mould, which will contaminate the whole apartment. The apartment D may vary in width, and it may be . . . so narrow as to serve merely as a passage for the ascending current of air, the greatest benefit being always derived from the downward current in apartment C.' This last paragraph certainly has much the appearance of an expansion of the original invention.

The claim, however, as made in the reissue, is materially changed from that in the old. It is capable of division into three parts, and may be stated as follows:––

1. The employment of an open-bottom ice-box, or its equivalent, in combination with a dividing partition, open above and below, so placed that by means of self-operating internal circulation the whole of the contained air shall be kept in motion, and caused to revolve around that partition in currents, moving downward only on one side of this partition, and upward only on the other side, when the same is combined with a chamber for the refrigeration of food, &c., placed directly under the ice-box.

2. Placing shelves or fixtures for holding articles to be refrigerated, or the articles themselves, in the descending current, directly under an open-bottom ice-box, in combination with a dividing partition open above and below.

3. The construction of the open-bottom ice-box in combination with the shelves or fixtures in such manner that the air may pass freely down through the same, and fall directly from the ice upon the articles to be refrigerated, while at the same time the drip of the water is prevented.

The patent is, therefore, for a combination of three elements; to wit: 1. An open-bottom ice-box, or its equivalent, so constructed that the air may pass freely down through it, while, at the same time, the drip of the water from the melting ice is prevented by collecting the water, and taking it in an escape-pipe outside of the refrigerator; 2. A dividing partition, open above and below, separating the refrigerator into two apartments; and, 3. A chamber directly under the open-bottom ice-box, in which articles to be refrigerated may be placed in such manner as to receive the descending current of air from the ice-box directly upon them.

There is no doubt of the utility of this combination. If the patentee was its original and first inventor, the device was patentable to him.

It will be observed that no particular form of the opening in the bottom of the ice-box is essential. In fact, an equivalent may be used. It is so expressly stated. Any device which will allow of the passage of the cooled air out from among the ice, or cooling surfaces, into the chamber below, will come within the specifications. Hence the bottom may be in the form of a grate, or it may be constructed of bars running only longitudinally, or it may have one or many open spaces of any form. In this respect, all is left to the judgment of the builder. He may adopt any arrangement which he considers the best suited to the accomplishment of the object to be attained; which is the cooling of the air by the ice, and its discharge into the chamber below. Neither is there any special requirement as to the manner in which the water from the melted ice is to be collected and conducted outside the refrigerator. It is said in the specifications, that the bottom of the ice-box was made funnel-shaped; but this was so that the water might be conducted to the central discharge, and from thence fall into the escape-pipe. This particular shape, however, is not made an essential ingredient. Any device that will collect the water in the discharge-pipe and prevent the drip will meet. this requirement of the invention. So, too, of the escape-pipe: it may be of any desirable form. As little space as possible should be occupied, so that it may not obstruct the downward passage of the air; but even this is left as a matter of judgment alone.

Neither is any particular form of partition made essential. It need not even be vertical. All that is required is, that it shall be open at the top and bottom, and divide the refrigerator into two apartments. There are no specifications as to the size of the openings or their form, or as to the comparative size of form of the two apartments. It is said that the apartment for the ascending current may be so narrow, that it will serve only as a passage for the air; but there is nothing to prevent that for the descending current being narrow also, if the purposes of the refrigerator are such as to make that desirable. As the greatest benefit is generally to be derived from the use of the descending current, it is probable that this chamber will ordinarily be made as large as is consistent with a steady and continuous flow of the air; but, if a rapid descent is considered essential for any of the purposes of refrigeration, there is nothing to prevent a suitable contrivance for that purpose. If that can be accomplished by a larger chamber above leading into a smaller one below, for the purpose of concentrating the cold-air current as it descends, a proper structure may be employed. If, in any place, the air descending from the ice-box can strike directly upon the articles to be refrigerated, the structure will be within the limits of the patent. It may be desirable to preserve the temperature at a lower degree until it strikes the article than it would be if permitted to remain in a chamber extending the whole size of the ice-box to the bottom of the refrigerator. In such case, a proper contrivance for that purpose may be employed. Shelves or other fixtures for holding the articles to be refrigerated are not necessary, as the articles ...

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