250 U.S. 88
Argued and Submitted March 28, 1919.
Decided May 19, 1919.
[250 U.S. 88, 89] Mr. William F. Brothers, pro se.
Mr. Assistant Attorney General Frierson, for the United States.
Mr. Justice PITNEY delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellant brought this action in the Court of Claims under the Act of June 25, 1910 (chapter 423, 36 Stat. 851 [Comp. St. 9465]), to recover compensation for the unlicensed use by the United States in the Panama Canal work of his patented invention for 'improvements in cable cranes with gravity anchors.' That court made findings of fact upon which it concluded as matter of law that there was no infringement of claimant's patent, and thereupon dismissed his petition. 52 Ct. Cl. 462.
From the findings it appears that claimant filed application for his patent July 18, 1895, and, upon such application, letters patent No. 551, 614 were granted and issued, under date December 17, 1895, to his assigness, Sarah E. Brothers and Maria A. Brown, to whom he had made assignment pending the application. Subsequently the letters patent were assigned to claimant, under date October 2, 1912, 2 1/2 months prior to their expiration by limitation on December 17, 1912. His claim to compensation is necessarily limited to this brief period, since there could be no assignment to him of any unliquidated claim against the government arising prior to the time he became the owner of the patent. Rev. St. 3477 (Comp. St. 6383).
No question is made but that plaintiff's invention was broadly new, a pioneer in its line, and the patent entitled to a broad construction and the claims to a liberal application of the doctrine of equivalents. See Brothers v. Lidgerwood Mfg. Co., 223 Fed. 359, 138 C. C. A. 460. It relates to the method of erecting and operating a suspension [250 U.S. 88, 90] cable adapted to carrying a traveling crane or the like. Roughly speaking, the prior art consisted in supporting such cables upon rigid and unyielding towers at each end, so as to prevent an undue sagging of the cable under the strain of its load. Claimant's invention consisted in employing a rigid support or abutment at one end of the cable and what is called a 'gravity anchor' at the opposite end, consisting of outwardly inclined shears with the cable attached thereto and a weight hung permanently from the shears on the opposite side, which weight, together with the weight of the shears, puts a tension upon the cable varying according to the weight of the structure and counterweight, combined with the degree of inclination of the structure; the operation of the tension device being automatically to take up the slack of the suspended cable when the load approaches the supports, with the result of permitting the load to be moved closer to the supports, with a given exertion of power, than before. There are other advantages not necessary to be specified. The essential feature of the patent is a nonyielding support or anchor at one end of the cable, and a yielding, tilting, or rocking support at the opposite end, consisting of outwardly inclined shears or some equivalent structure held movably at the base, and a counterweight on the outer side. It is to be observed that rigidity of the head tower is a sine qua non, necessary to produce tension of the cable; yielding supports at both ends would be a contradiction of terms, since with such an arrangement there would be no support, and the entire structure would collapse under its own weight. The importance of this will appear.
In the construction of the Panama Canal the government installed in the year 1909, and maintained and used continuously thereafter until the expiration of the Brothers patent, one single cableway and six duplex or double cableways which are complained of in this case [250 U.S. 88, 91] as infringements. As to the mode of construction, maintenance, and operation of these cableways, the findings of the Court of Claims are as follows:
Upon the argument here, appellant quoted somewhat amply from the evidence taken before the Court of Claims. For the purposes of our review the findings of that court are to be treated like the verdict of a jury, and we are not at liberty to refer to the evidence, any more than to the opinion, for the purpose of eking out, controlling, or modifying their scope. United States v. Smith, 94 U.S. 214 , 218; Stone v. United States, 164 U.S. 380, 382 , 17 S. Sup. Ct. 71; District of Columbia v. Barnes, 197 U.S. 146, 150 , 25 S. Sup. Ct. 401; Crocker v. United States, 240 U.S. 74, 78 , 36 S. Sup. Ct. 245; and cases cited.
We concur in the opinion of the Court of Claims that no infringement of claimant's patent is shown. In the Act of June 25, 1910, under which this suit is brought and under which alone it could be brought, it is expressly provided that there shall be no such suit 'based on the use by the United States of any article heretofore owned, leased, used by, or in the possession of the United States.' In view of this and of the fact that the cableways complained of were theretofore in the possession of and used by the United States, claimant insists that after the passage of the act the government materially altered the cableways in such a manner as to make them infringe his patent. The contention is that the cables were tightened up in order to decrease their deflection, and that this tightening, in view of the loads carried by the cables, caused the supporting towers to yield or tilt, and thus to become in essence movable towers like the gravity anchors covered by the claimant's patent. But, as pointed out by the Court of Claims, it is beyond question that, as constructed and used generally, and as intended to be used, the government cableways did not infringe claimant's device. The subsequent tightening of the cables was done [250 U.S. 88, 94] in the orderly conduct of the work for the purpose of carrying the loads over and free from the work that was being constructed. So far as this caused a yielding of the tower under the stress of the load, it was an incidental result, affecting or tending to affect the towers on both sides, and not upon one side to the exclusion of the other. It did not amount to a mechanical equivalent of the claimant's structure; there is no semblance of an outward inclination of a yielding tower or yielding support, but rather a tendency on the part of rigid towers to break down or collapse inwardly under an undue stress. And, as we have shown, the rigidity of one support is as essential to claimant's structure as is the movability of the other.
Inasmuch as the findings fully support the judgment of the court below, its judgment must be and it is