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City of Elizabeth v. American Nicholson Pavement Co.

United States Supreme Court
97 U.S. 126 (1877)


Around 1848, inventor Samuel Nicholson (plaintiff) created a specific type of wooden pavement using wooden blocks that was more durable than the pavement typically used on roadways during that period. To test the invented pavement’s qualities, he put down the pavement on a specific section of publicly-used road in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1854, Nicholson obtained a patent for his pavement invention. However, during the period when Nicholson was experimenting with his pavement in Boston, the City of Elizabeth, New Jersey (“Elizabeth”), George W. Tubbs, and the New Jersey Wood-Paving Company (defendants) began laying down wooden pavement in Elizabeth substantially similar to Nicholson’s invention. Nicholson’s company, American Nicholson Pavement Company (plaintiff), brought suit against Elizabeth and the others for patent infringement, who argued that Nicholson’s invention was unenforceable because the pavement was in “public use” for six years before Nicholson applied for a patent. The lower court held for Nicholson and Elizabeth and the others appealed.

Rule of Law

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Holding and Reasoning (Bradley, J.)

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  • A "yes" or "no" answer to the question framed in the issue section;
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