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The Barbed Wire Patent

Supreme Court of the United States
143 U.S. 275 (1892)


In 1874, Joseph Glidden acquired a patent for an improvement on barbed wire. The patent was later acquired by Washburn & Moen Manufacturing (Washburn) (plaintiff). This barbed-wire improvement patent was challenged by several fence sellers (defendants) that believed the patent lacked the required novelty. Glidden did not claim he had invented barbed wire. Glidden admitted the general idea of barbed wire existed before he invented his improvement. Glidden’s patent was for a wire that held the barbs in place, without the need for the user to hammer the barbs into the wire. This invention enabled barbed wire to become a much more commercially viable product. The fence sellers argued that Glidden’s wire was not unique or novel enough to warrant its own patent. For one, the fence sellers argued Glidden’s invention lacked the required novelty for a patent because the final product was similar to previously patented types of barbed wire. The fence sellers also argued that Glidden’s invention lacked the requisite novelty because it was already in use by other barbed-wire producers at the time he applied for the patent. The circuit court sided with the fence sellers, holding that there was no novelty in the invention. Washburn appealed.

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Holding and Reasoning (Brown, J.)

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