[Case Brief] Biswanath Prasad Radhey Shyam v/s Hindustan Metal Industries, 1979

Brief Facts and Procedural History

M/s Hindustan Metal Industries, (hereinafter called “the plaintiff”) is a registered partnership firm carrying on the business of manufacturing brass and German silver utensils at Mirzapur. M/s Bishwanath Prasad Radhey Shyam, (hereinafter called “the defendant”) is a concern carrying on the business of manufacturing dishes and utensils in Mirzapur. On August 8, 1953, the plaintiff instituted a suit for injunction and damages, preceded by a notice, served on the defendant on September 9, 1952, in the Court of the District Judge, Allahabad, within whose jurisdiction Mirzapur is situated. (para 2 & 3)

The old method of manufacturing utensils, particularly shallow dishes, was to turn scrap and polish them on some sort of headstock without a tailstock, the utensils either being fixed to the headstock by thermoplastic cement or held in the jaws of a chuck fixed to the headstock. This system was, however, fraught with risk to the workers inasmuch as the utensils used to fly off from the headstock. Consequently, with a view to introducing improvement, convenience, speed, safety and better finish, Purshottam Dass, one of the partners of the plaintiff firm, invented a device and method for the manufacture of utensils, in 1951. The plaintiff after filing the necessary specifications and claims in the Patent Office, got the alleged invention patented under the Indian Patents and Designs Act, 1911 (hereinafter called “the Act”), at No. 46368-51 on May 6, 1953, with effect from December 13, 1951, as assignee of the said patent. By virtue of this patent, the plaintiff acquired the sole and exclusive right of using this method and means for the manufacture of utensils. In September 1952, the plaintiff learned that the defendant was using and employing the device and method of manufacturing dishes under the former’s patent. The plaintiff served a notice upon the defendant asking him to desist from infringing the plaintiff’s patent, but the defendant continued to infringe the patent. (Para 4)

On the preceding facts, the plaintiff prayed for a permanent injunction restraining the defendant from adopting, imitating, employing or in any manner infringing the device of the plaintiff’s patent. The plaintiff further prayed for a mandatory injunction requiring the defendant to destroy the articles used for the infringement of its patent. The plaintiff further claimed a decree for Rs 3000 as damages. (Para 5)

The defendant resisted the suit on the ground that the method covered by the plaintiff’s patent, namely, that of a lathe (headstock, adapter, and tailstock) has been known and openly and commonly in use in the commercial world all over the country for several decades before the plaintiff’s patent; that the alleged invention of the plaintiff was not on the date of the patent, a manner of new manufacture or improvement, nor did it involve any inventive step or ingenuity having regard to what was known or used prior to the date of the patent; and that the patent has no utility and therefore it was liable to be revoked. (para 6)

The defendant also filed a counter claim praying for revocation of the patent on the above grounds. This was then supported by three other business concerns who also wanted to revoke the patent granted. (para 7 and 8)

The trial court held that the patent does not involve any inventive step with regard to what was known or used prior to the patent. The changes which were introduced by the patentee are of minor nature and did not involve any novelty. Further, the alleged invention also has no utility. However, the appellate bench concluded that the method of mounting patented by the appellant involved an inventive step and was a manner of new manufacture and improvement.  (Para 9 & 12)

Issues before the Court:

(i) whether the patent was not at the date of the patent, a manner of new manufacture or improvement;

(ii) whether the invention does not involve any inventive step, having regard to what was known or used prior to the date of the patent? (para 36)

Arguments for the appellants:

  • The methods claimed by the respondent did not involve any inventive step or novelty. (Para 14)
  • The appellant bench of the high court was in error in holding that the supporting of an article in a lathe by the pressure of the point of a pointed tailstock constitute as a novelty. (Para 14)
  • The alleged inventor, Purushottam Das, who was a partner of the plaintiff firm did not appear in the witness box to explain as to the method and means patented by the plaintiff which raises an interference adverse to the plaintiff. (Para 14)

Arguments of the respondent:

  • It was submitted that whether the process got patented by the respondent involves a method of new manufacture or improvement, is one purely of fact, and should not, as a matter of practice, be disturbed by this court. Even in cases of doubt, the court should uphold the patent. (Para 15)
  • It was submitted that the patent was granted by the controller after due inquiry and publication and unless the contrary is proved should be presumed to have been duly granted. (Para 15)
  • In the instant case, the presumption is stronger because the trial judge, as well as the appellate bench of the high court, have concurrently held that the process patented had utility. (Para 15)

Ratio of the Judgement:

  • The object of the patent law is to encourage scientific research, new technology, and industrial progress. The fundamental principle of Patent Law is that a patent is granted only for an invention which must be new and useful. That is to say, it must have novelty and utility. It is essential for the validity of a patent that it must be the inventor’s own discovery as opposed to mere verification of what was already known before the date of the patent. (Para 17 & 18)
  • “‘Invention’ means any manner of new manufacture and includes an improvement and an allied invention”. [Section 2(8) of 1911 Act.] It is to be noted that unlike the Patents Act, 1970, the Act of 1911 does not specify the requirement of being used in the definition of ‘invention’. But Courts have always taken the view that a patentable invention, apart from being a new manufacture, must also be useful. The foundation for this judicial interpretation is to be found in the fact that Section 26(1)(f) of the 1911 Act recognizes lack of utility as one of the grounds on which a patent can be revoked. “Manufacture” according to the definition of the term in Section 2(11) of the Act, includes not only “any art, process or manner of providing, preparing or making an article” but also “any article prepared or produced by the manufacturer”. (Para 19 & 20)
  • It is important to bear in mind that in order to be patentable an improvement on something known before or a combination of different matters already known, should be something more than a mere workshop improvement; and must independently satisfy the test of the invention or an “inventive step”. (Para 21)
  • Whether an alleged invention involves novelty and an “inventive step”, is a mixed question of law and fact, depending largely on the circumstances of the case. Although no absolute that is uniformly applicable in all circumstances can be devised, certain broad criteria can be indicated. Whether the “manner of manufacture” patented, was publicly known, used and practiced in the country before or at the date of the patent? If the answer to this question is “Yes”, it will negative novelty or “subject-matter”. (Para 23)
  • The expression “does not involve any inventive step” used in Section 26(1)(e) of the Act and its equivalent word “obvious”, have acquired special significance in the terminology of patent law. The “obviousness” has to be strictly and objectively judged. For this determination, several forms of the question have been suggested. (Para 24)
    • “Whether the alleged discovery lies so much out of the track of what was known before as not naturally to suggest itself to a person thinking on the subject, it must not be the obvious or natural suggestion of what was previously known.” (Para 24)
    • ‘Was it for practical purposes obvious to a skilled worker, in the field concerned, in the state of knowledge existing at the date of the patent to be found in the literature then available to him, that he would or should make the invention the subject of the claim concerned?’ (Para 25)
  • Further, it is pertinent that the validity of the patent is not guaranteed by the grant as expressly provided under section 13(4) of the patents act, 1970. Thus the argument that there is a presumption in favor of the validity of the patent cannot be accepted. (Para 32)
  • Taking into consideration the evidence placed on record by the parties it was held that the view taken by the trial court was quite reasonable and entitled to due weight. (para 40)
  • Thus the invention which got patented by the plaintiff was neither in any manner of new manufacture nor a distinct improvement on the old continuance, involving any novelty or inventive step. (para 41)
  • The proper way to construe a specification is not to read the claims first and then see what the full description of the invention is, but first to read the description of the invention, in order that the mind may be prepared for what it is, that the invention is to be claimed, for the patentee cannot claim more than he desires to patent. (Para 43)

Decision Held:

The court concluded that there has been no substantial exercise of the inventive power or innovative faculty. There is no evidence that the patented machine is the result of any research, independent thought, ingenuity or skill. Thus the holdings of the learned judges of the appellate bench are stuck down and the patent being invalid was liable to be revoked on the grounds mentioned in clauses (d) and (e) of section 26(1) of the act.  (Para 56)


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