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Gayler v. Wilder
United States Supreme Court
51 U.S. (10 How.) 477 (1850)
Between 1829 and 1832, James Conner built and used a fireproof safe to protect papers from fire. Conner used the safe until 1838, when the safe passed into another person’s possession. The identities of all subsequent possessors were unclear, and it was unknown whether subsequent possessors knew of or used the safe’s fireproof capabilities. In 1843, Daniel Fitzgerald invented and secured a patent for a fireproof safe that was likely substantially similar to Conner’s. Fitzgerald’s patent was assigned to Wilder (plaintiff). Wilder sued Gayler and Brown (defendants), alleging infringement of the safe patent. Gayler and Brown contended that the patent was invalid because Fitzgerald was not the original and first inventor of the fireproof safe. The court instructed the jury that Fitzgerald could be considered the original inventor, and his patent therefore valid, if Conner had used the safe only for his own purposes and did not make the discovery public, and if Conner’s safe design had been forgotten or abandoned by anyone who knew of it.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Taney, C.J.)
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