Cochrane v Deener 94 US 780 (1876)

Posted by Anton Hughes on Tuesday, January 03, 2006 with No comments
Citation: Cochrane v Deneer (1876)  94 US 780

Facts: Cochrane had 6 patents relating to a new process for milling flour. The first was a patent for the general process, the next 5 for improvements to machinery associated with the process. The defendants used a similar process, but relied on different machinery. On this basis they claimed that their process was radically different and hence not infringing.

Outcome: The defendants were found to have infringed the process patent and three of the machinery patents, but not the two remaining machinery patents.

Ratio: Where a process is patented, it may not be tied to particular machinery to carry it out.

Relevance: The primary relevance of the case is the definition of a patentable process to require the transformation of subject-matter to a different state or thing. This is in other words a requirement of tangibility of the result - one reason software patents were initially rejected.

With software patents generally considered to be process patents, the machinery analogy may be considered to relate to differences in the code implementing such a process.


Bradley J

At 787: "That a process may be patentable, irrespective of the particular form of the instrumentalities used, cannot be disputed. If one of the steps of a process be that a certain substance is to be reduced to a powder, it may not be at all material what instrument or machinery is used to effect that object, whether a hammer, a pestle and mortar, or  mill. Either may be pointed out; but if the patent is not confined to that particular tool or machine, the use of the others would be an infringement, the general process being the same. A process is a mode of treatment of certain materials to produce a given result. It is an act, or a series of acts, performed upon the subject-matter to be transformed and reduced to a different state or thing. If new and useful, it is just as patentable as is a piece of machinery. In the language of the patent law, it is an art. The machinery pointed out as suitable to perform the process may or may not be new or patentable; whilst the process itself may be altogether new, and produce an entirely new result."