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U.S. Supreme Court

Siemens' Administrator v. Sellers, 123 U.S. 276 (1887)

Siemens' Administrator v. Sellers

Argued October 17, 1887

Decided November 14, 1887

123 U.S. 276


The English letters patent dated January 22, 1861, and sealed July 19, 1861, issued to Charles William Siemens and Frederick Siemens for "improvements in furnaces," and the American letters patent No. 41,788, dated March 1, 1864, issued to C. W. and F. Siemens for "improved regenerator furnaces" describe the same furnace in all essential particulars, and are substantially for the same invention.

When American letters patent are issued covering the same invention described in foreign letters patent of an earlier date, the life of the American patent is not prolonged by the fact that it also covers improvements upon the invention as patented in the foreign country.

The condition imposed by the Act of July 4, 1836, 5 Stat. 117, that the term of a patent for an invention which has been patented in a foreign country shall commence to run from the time of publication of the foreign patent was not repealed or abrogated by the Act of March 2, 1861, 12 Stat. 246.

In the construction of a statute, although the words of the act are generally to have a controlling effect, yet the interpretation of those words must often be sought from the surrounding circumstances and previous history.

In equity for an account and for an injunction to restrain infringement of letters patent. Decree dismissing the bill from which the complainants appealed. After the cause was docketed in this Court, one of the appellants died and his administrator with the will annexed appeared and prosecuted his appeal. The following is the case as stated by the court.

This is a suit on a patent granted to the appellants, Charles chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 123 U. S. 277

W. and Frederick Siemens, of Great Britain, on the 12th day of January, 1869, being a reissue of a patent originally granted to the appellants on the 1st day of March, 1864. This patent was for an improved regenerator furnace, so called, intended to be used where a high degree of heat is required. By the arrangements of this invention, the products of combustion, after passing through the furnace, and before entering the chimney, are utilized in heating what are called the regenerators, consisting of bricks, or other refractory materials, loosely piled up in two pairs of separate chambers though which, alternately, after being thus heated, the air and gases are made to pass on their way to the furnace, and thus become raised to an intense degree of heat before entering it. While one pair of regenerators is being thus heated by the outgoing products of combustion or flame, the other pair are giving out their heat to the air and gases which are passing into the furnace, and then, by a reversal of dampers, the current is changed, and the air and gases are made to pass through the newly heated regenerators, and the products of combustion or flame through those that have become partially cooled, and so on alternately.

The apparatus has various incidental appliances necessary to its successful operation. Thus, as the regenerator chambers are placed underneath the furnace, spaces are formed between them and the furnace bottom for the purpose of admitting a circulation of air to cool the parts and prevent their being destroyed by the intense heat. Another arrangement is that of a separate and distinct furnace, of peculiar form, for the consumption of the raw fuel, so constructed and operated that the gases produced thereby are carried over by a suitable flue to one of the heated regenerators, while atmospheric air is admitted into the other regenerator of the same pair. The air and gases are thus kept separate until about to enter the furnace by separate flues, when they meet and commingle and produce a rapid combustion and a most intense heat.

This is the general nature the invention, and this explanation will be sufficient for understanding the claims of the patent, which are four in number, and are as follows, to-wit: chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 123 U. S. 278

"We claim, in combination with a furnace A and its chimney or smoke-discharge flue P, a system or series of air and gas regenerators B1 B2 B3 B4 constructed substantially as specified and having conduits and dampers arranged so that air and gas may be led into and through such regenerators and furnace and out of the chimney in manner and so as to be operated as and for the purpose or purposes hereinbefore described."

"We also claim the arrangement and combination of the air space or open chamber C with the furnace and its system of regenerators, arranged and applied together substantially in manner and so as to operate as described. same and the space, E, with the furnace, regenerators, conduits, and damper chests applied thereto, the whole being substantially as specified. [The air chamber D admits the atmospheric air to the regenerator.]"

"We also claim the combination of a furnace with one or more regenerators or means of receiving its waste smoke and gaseous products and intercepting or receiving heat therefrom, and also with means or devices by which all or a portion of the heat so intercepted or received may be absorbed by the influent air or gas during its passage into or to such furnace for the purpose of improving or promoting combustion therein."

The defendants do not deny that the appellants were the authors of the very ingenious invention claimed by the patent, and they do not seriously deny that they use it. The principal defense which they set up is that the appellants took out an English patent for the same invention dated January 22, 1861, and sealed July 19, 1861, and that, by force of the acts of 1839 and 1861, the American patent expired at the end of seventeen years from the sealing of the English patent -- namely on the 19th day of July, 1878, and they deny that they used the said invention before the last-mentioned date, and no evidence is given that they did so. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 123 U. S. 282

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