GILLETTE SAFETY RAZOR V. ANGLO-AMERICAN TRADING

Citation: (1913) 30 RPC 465 at 481.

Date of Judgement: 30th June, 1913.

Bench: Lords Kinnear, Atkinson, Shaw and Moulton.

Name of the Parties:

Petitioner: Gillette Safety Razor Company.

Defendant: Anglo-American Trading Company Ld.


Facts/Background of the Case

In 1902, a Patent was granted for “Improvements in or relating to safety'' and “other razors”. The Petitioner filed an action against the defendants for infringement of patent rights. The defendants claimed that the allegations were false since they were not pertaining to novelty or subject matter of the model designed by the patentee. The Claims were in accordance with the amendments, which were confining the invention to safety razors.

The first claim was "A safety razor " comprising a thin flexible blade detachably combined with a holder by which " the blade is positioned and supported and its cutting edge is given the rigidity necessary to make it operative for shaving, substantially as described." The fifth claim was " In a safety razor the combination of a rigid backing, a " guard and a flexible blade detachably held between the backing and the guard, " substantially as described." The sixth claim was "A holder forming a part of a 'safety' razor and having a double-edged guard and a handle 25 "located between the edges of the guard, substantially as described."

The Defendants had designed their model of the razors with a flat backing and guard and had no flexibility to the blade and argued that the claim 1,5 and 6 were invalid and there was no infringement of the patent. But the Judgement was given for the plaintiff and the defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal. It was stated that the first claim included the element of flexibility, being for the complete article and not for a subordinate integer, and did not cover a blade not secured by being bent, hence the defendants were innocent. Following, the plaintiff appealed to the House of Lords. Judgement came in favour of the defendants and they were dismissed with no costs.


Issue of the case

  1. How to determine whether the patent is innovative?

  2. What are the limitations and relaxations to avoid infringement of a Patent?


Judgement

  • The infringement of patent and the damages claimed by the plaintiff was totally under the condition of construction of the razor blades and whether the defendants conform to the amendments.

  • The changes made in the construction of the razor included just the thin blade. The curve in the razor was for flexibility and was meant for adjustability. There were mere changes in the razor and the claims were for rigidity and not for infringement.

  • The argument given by Lord Moulton was nobody can make safety razors without imitating Gillette razors. Bending would be beneficial for shaving, which is subject to total adjustment and not rigidity.

  • The matter of rigidity of the blade is not a matter of novelty, the thickness of the blade has to be obtained and before Gillette's patent, there was no use of the thin flexible blade.

  • A blade that does not need any support of the razor is out of the patent and the defendant had a very thin blade. The original form of razor combination was relatively expensive to achieve and hence the defendants used cheaper means for production and manufacture by using a thinner blade. Hence, comes the flexibility and the guard to support it.

  • The defendants have taken into account the thinness of the blade and obtained the double edge. They have also used the method of plaintiff to create the best possible results, which does not show any imitation of the patentee’s model.

  • A person is entitled to know their extent of work that is permissible and the plaintiff is claiming its patent beyond limits since the double edge blade was never invented before until now. Hence, there can be no infringement of something which has not been invented.

Supporting such claims would result in encroachment of common people’s rights. Monopoly has to be avoided for the creation of new opportunities.

  • Later popularly known as Gillette Defense, had a simple rule of “Infringement not novel” implying relief can be offered to such invalid claims and the defendants could prove their innovation and not imitation or infringement of any prior creation.

  • This popular defense was brought out by Lord Moulton and as he continued to argue that from the point of view of the public it's hard to identify the numerous patents and the expirations. The only safeguard of the manufacturer is to be sure about his work and knowing that what he is doing is permissible and mere changes from the original institution should not cause harm to any of his work in line.


Conclusion

When we are talking about patent infringement, the first step towards it is to figure out the originality of the patent. The subject matter needs some innovation for it to be claimed as a patent. Patents are nothing but the original work of art created by inventors. And they need to be protected by their rights. When there is duplicity of original work, it’s a simple imitation or just mere improvements will determine the extent of infringement of the patent. Any innovation leads to developments and acts as a base for nearly every next improvement. Over lapse of patent cannot be claimed as infringement and should not be considered as a damage to the original work done.



This article is written by Shiva Dubey of New Law College, Pune.

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