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Ronning Machinery Co. v. Caterpillar Tractor Co.

May 27, 1942


Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Illinois, Northern Division; J. LeRoy Adair, Judge.

Author: Lindley

Before EVANS and SPARKS, Circuit Judges, and LINDLEY, District Judge.

LINDLEY, District Judge.

Plaintiffs appeal from a judgment dismissing their complaint for want of equity. They alleged infringement of their patents Winsor 2,020,271, Ronning Reissue 19,846, Ronning 1,658,353, Ronning 1,883,403 and Arndt 2,147,631. They rely principally upon Winsor. The court held the Winsor and Ronning Reissue patents not infringed and the others invalid.

The Winsor patent was before the District Court in Galion Iron Works & Mfg.Co. v. Beckwith Mach.Co., 25 F.Supp. 73 and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on appeal in 105 F.2d 941. The trial court there held the patent not infringed and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Claims 2 and 10 here involved were not sued upon in that case but their presence now, we think, avails plaintiffs nothing here. Claim 31 quoted by Judge Schoonmaker in the District Court is typical. The quotations from the application in the District Court and the discussion in the Court of Appeals eliminate the necessity of repetition here.

Winsor's Claim 3 is for a combination of a tractor secured at its front end to a frame extending forwardly, wheels beneath the forward end of the frame and the rear end of the tractor, an adjustable grader blade carried by the frame, an operator's station and controls extending therefrom to control the grader blade and a steering wheel by the operator. This is in effect a claim for a combination of any ordinary tractor, from which the front wheels have been removed, with an ordinary road grader, the front end of the tractor being attached to the rear of the grader. Claim 16, similar to 3, includes also a "supporting connection between said internal combustion engine and said frame." Under Claim 31, by a superfluity and complexity of words, the patentee combined (1) a vehicle frame; (2) "a power traction unit"; (3) wheels furnishing traction; (4) a steering wheel ahead of the traction unit on the frame; (5) a road-working implement adjustably mounted on the frame; (6) a three-point suspension of the front of the power unit by the frame; (7) an operator's station; (8) means operable from the operator's station for adjusting the working implement (grader blade) and actuating the steering wheel. Numerous other claims are merely variations of the same combination.

Each element is old. Road graders with adjustable blades, gasoline engine tractors, three-point suspension in mechanical construction, steering wheels, and means for actuating the blade and the steering wheel have repeatedly been employed by mechanics working in the art. Our question is whether by combining these old elements and, specifically, by placing the tractor or "power unit" at the rear, suspending the front end thereof in a specified manner and so arranging the actuating means for steering and operating the tool as to make it possible for one man to drive the tractor and manipulate the grader blade from one station, the patentee achieved such novelty and utility as to amount to invention over the prior art.

Moats' grader was made as early as 1897. By adding to it a traction power plant at the rear, a mechanic would achieve everything that Winsor accomplished or taught.

Godley in 1908 patented a power cultivating device with a power unit at the rear, a wheel in front and an earth working device between the two, all operated by one man.

Dawson in 982,480 as early as 1906 demonstrated a like combination. He had a tractor at the rear, an earth working device mounted on a frame ahead thereof, supporting wheels at the front of the frame, a steering wheel and means for operating his plows and guiding the machine both from one station. His arrangement was that of Winsor. His tractor was not the same and the earth working device was a series of plows instead of one scraper blade. But these differences of Winsor do not achieve invention. Indeed, Winsor's problem of mounting successfully one grading blade instead of five plows was simpler than that of Dawson.

Ronning in 1,340,461, 1916, described and claimed an earth working device wherein the tractor was attached to the rear end of the frame, with an operator's seat in front or at the side of the motor. At his station there were means for steering and for controlling the earth working blades. The implements were a series of plows or cultivators rather than a road scraper; but this fact is wholly immaterial as is also the fact that the tractor was not that of Winsor's choice. The essential fact is that Ronning's combination was that of a power device pushing an earth working device, steering the machine and controlling operation of the working blades from one position by one man being possible. With this earlier patent before him, Winsor needed only to make his choice of tractors, his choice of earth working blade and connect the same in a manner taught by Ronning.

Oswald's one man power road grader, in use as early as 1919, combined a traction power plant and a grader on wheels all operated by one man.

Russell, in 1920, supplied all of the elements of Winsor in combination except, perhaps, the socalled "three-point suspension" and placement of the motor at the rear instead of the front. The three-point suspension had been disclosed earlier by Ruemelin in 1908. We think positioning the power unit at the rear instead of the front did not constitute invention, and, as we have seen, rear placement had been taught by earlier delvers in the art.

Fossum's patent 1,235,456 of 1917 disclosed a self-propelled, pushed road grader capable of operation by one man. Whether he taught adjustability of the grader blade to the same degree as subsequent patentees, such as Winsor, did, seems to us of little importance. It is doubtful that Winsor himself gave full instruction in this respect, but, if he did, the accomplishment was nothing ...

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