MORRIS V. MCMILLIN, 112 U. S. 244 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Morris v. McMillin, 112 U.S. 244 (1884)

Morris v. McMillin

Argued November 5-6, 1884

Decided November 17, 1884

112 U.S. 244


The patent granted to John S. McMillin, April 16, 1867, for an improvement in applying steam power to the capstans of steamboats and other crafts was in effect for the application of the power of a steam engine to a vertical capstan, by means of the same well known agencies by which it had been previously applied to a horizontal windlass; it did not involve the exercise of invention, and is therefore invalid.

The late reported cases decided in this Court, holding patents to be invalid for want of invention, cited.

The bill was filed against the appellants to restrain the infringement of letters patent granted to John S. McMillin, one of the appellees, dated April 16, 1867, for "a new and useful improvement in applying steam power to the capstans of steamboats chanrobles.com-redchanrobles.com-red

Page 112 U. S. 245

and other crafts." The invention, as described generally in the specification, consisted

"in connecting the capstan with the freight-hoisting engine or other engine of steamboats by means of shafts and cog wheels, so as to operate the capstan by steam power instead of hand power, as has been generally used heretofore."

The specification then proceeded:

"The following is the descriptive part of the specification, which will be readily understood by reference to the accompanying drawings, in which the same letters refer to like parts in each:"

"A is the deck; A' the boiler deck; B the capstan; C the hoisting engine; F the wooden frame work of the engine; D the engine shaft; E E the hoisting rollers, connected with engine shaft by the cog wheels a and b; G is a vertical shaft extending from the hold of the boat to the cargo wheel shaft, g. With the latter it is connected -- the bevel wheels c d; H is a horizontal shaft in the hold of the boat at the middle bulkhead, extending from the vertical shaft G to the capstan B. With the former it is connected by the bevel wheels e f and with the latter by the bevel wheels g h. The capstan is permanently fastened to its shaft J. The vertical shaft G is so arranged that it can be lifted or lowered by means of a set screw l, whereby the bevel wheels c d and e f can be set out or in gear at leisure, interrupting or establishing the connection with the engine. K K are the bearings of the shaft; i i are hooks, which can be taken off and the cargo wheel shaft lifted aside so that any of the hoisting rollers may be disengaged."

"The operation is as follows, viz., when the engine is set in motion, the same is communicated by the described shafts and wheels to the capstan. The line is thrown over the capstan as usual, and one man to pay off the line and another to attend the engine are all the hands necessary in the operation."

The claim was as follows:

"Rotating a capstan placed on deck of a boat by means of an auxiliary engine, and capstan and engine are placed forward of the steam boilers of said boat, substantially as hereinbefore described, and for the purposes set forth. "

Page 112 U. S. 246



Page 112 U. S. 247

The first application for the patent sued on was filed July 23, 1855. Its claim was for

"the application of the steam power of a hoisting or other engine of steamboats, or other crafts, to the capstan, by communicating the power of the engine to the capstan by means of the shafts G and H and the bevel wheels c d e f g h or by any other means."

This application was rejected. On February 7, 1856, the application was amended by striking out the claim originally made and substituting the following:

"I do not claim the application of steam power to the capstan as a principle, but what I do claim is the arrangement and combination of machinery employed to communicate rotary motion to the capstan from the hoisting or other engine of steamboats and other crafts, namely, the shafts G and H and the bevel wheels c d e f g and h,"

&c. This amended application was also rejected, and no change therein was made until February 4, 1867, when it was stricken out, and the claim of the patent sued on was substituted by way of amendment. During all this time, the drawings and specifications of the first application remained unchanged, and are embodied in the letters patent.

One of the defenses relied on by the appellants to defeat the patent was that it was invalid for want of novelty and patentability. Upon final hearing, the circuit court rendered a decree for the complainants, and the defendants appealed.


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