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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Selden Patent


The New York Times
September 16, 1909

Judge Hough Sustains the Selden Claims Against Two Automobile Concerns.


Patents, Court Says, Cover "Every Modern Car Driven by Petroleum Vapor."

Judge Hough in the United States Circuit Court yesterday handed down a decision in the famous Selden automobile patent cases, as against the Ford and Panhard automobiles. The decision is of importance to the automobile trade, inasmuch as the Selden patents, although they have never been actively built upon by the inventor or his associates, are so fundamental as to cover what Judge Hough calls "every modern car driven by petroleum vapor as yet commercially successful."

The suit is that of George B. Selden and the Electric Vehicle Company against the Ford Motor Company and C.A. Duerr & Co., the O.J. Gude Company, John Wanamaker, and others, the Societe' Anonymedes Anciens Establishments, Panhard & Levassor, Andre Massenat, and Henry and A.C. Neubauer. It has been pending in the United States courts for several years, and vast quantities of testimony have been taken.

The list of defendants was framed so as to include both manufacturer and dealer. Judge Hough in his decision recognizes plainly the peculiar character of the litigation and the consequences that flow from it. He says, after discussing the particular claims of the litigants:

"No litigation closely resembling these cases has been shown to the court, and no instance is known to me of an idea being buried in the Patent Office until the world caught up to it and passed it, and then embodied in a patent only useful for tribute. But patents are granted for inventions. The inventor may use his discovery or he may not, but no one else can use it for seventeen years.

"The seventeen years begins whenever the United States Court may so decree by its patent grant. That the applicant for patent rights acquiesce in the delay or even desires delay is immaterial to the courts, so long as the statute law has now been violated."

An Important Claim.

The first claim is regarded by Judge Hough as the most important, and he holds that both of the defendant companies have violated it. He describes the claim as follows:

"The combination with road locomotive, provided with a suitable running gear and including a propelling wheel and steering mechanism, of a liquid hydrocarbon engine of the compression type, comprising one or more power cylinders; a suitable liquid fuel receptacle, a power shaft connected with and arranged to run faster than the propelling wheel, an intermediate clutch or disconnecting device, and a suitable carriage body adapted to the conveyance of persons or goods."

The other claims held to be violated relate to particulars of construction generally outlined in Claim 1. There are due of them altogether, and the court holds against one or the other or both of the defendants in respect to each one.

In conclusion, Judge Hough sums up the bearing of the case on the automobile world outside the holders of the Selden licenses as follows:

"The settlement of the complainants' position seems sufficient to show that the subject matter of these suits is the modern gasoline automobile. The defendants are severally the manufacturer, seller, and user of the Ford machine, (a well-known American make.) and the maker an importer of the Panhard, a celebrated and typical French product. If these defendants infringe, it is because the complainants own a patent so fundamental and far reaching as to cover every modern car driven by any form of petroleum vapor and as yet commercially successful.

"If I have correctly apprehended it, there was room for a pioneer patent, and it must be held that on its face and in view of the art Selden's was such a patent. This means that Selden is entitled to a broad range of equivalents."

A Rebuke for Lawyers.

Judge Hough, in his opinion, also rebukes sharply the practice of lawyers in most patent cases in taking great masses of testimony, and cites the Selden patent cases as notorious offenders in this respect. In those particular cases, about thirty-two big volumes are required to contain the testimony, pleadings, and argument.

Representatives of the defendants stoutly asserted last night that the effect of Judge Hough's decision would not be appreciably felt so far as they or the automobile business at large is concerned. They said that the cases will be fought to the last ditch. They will be taken now to be Circuit Court of Appeals, and in case that tribunal sustains Judge Hough they will be carried on up to the Supreme Court. By that time, the defendants say, the Selden patents will have expired.

The Selden patent cases have already been in the public eye at intervals for several years, and, according to those who represent the Ford and Panhard concerns, it will be several years more before a final decision is reached.

Job E. Hedges, the legal advisor of the American Motor Car Manufacturers' Association, in this city, said last night that while he had not personally handled the patent cases he was quite sure that an appeal would be taken to the Circuit Court of Appeals and the whole case whipped out before that tribunal. Mr. Parker, a Detroit lawyer, has been representing the American Motor Car Manufacturers' Association in the Selden cases. He was not in town last night.

Andre' Massenet, an official of the Panhard Company in this city, said after reading of Judge Hough's decision that he felt quite sure the matter would not be allowed to rest where it stands at present.

"This is only the first court," said Mr. Massenet. "It will doubtless be taken to the higher courts in due course."

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