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Wommack v. Durham Pecan Co.

715 F.2d 962 (1983)

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Wommack v. Durham Pecan Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

715 F.2d 962 (1983)

Facts

Malcolm Wommack (plaintiff) was a general laborer for Durham Pecan Company (Durham) (defendant). Pecans often contain worms that must be removed prior to sale. The former process used by Durham for removing worms was difficult for workers. Wommack developed an improved process for worm removal at his home on his own time. The process used yellow food coloring to enhance the visibility under UV light of worms in contrast to pecan meat. Wommack invited Mr. W. M. Durham to his home to see the process in person. Durham began experimenting with the commercial application of the process. Mr. Durham asked Wommack for permission to use the new process. Wommack responded affirmatively. At the same time, Durham agreed to loan Wommack equipment to continue personal experiments at home. Wommack eventually filed a patent application for the new process without involvement from Durham. Shortly after, Wommack was fired. Wommack then informed Mr. Durham via letter that he was revoking permission to use his process and that he desired the execution of a signed agreement if Durham wanted to continue use of Wommack’s invented process. Mr. Durham claimed that Durham had a right to use the process. Wommack threatened legal action before filing suit for patent infringement. The jury found that the elements of patent infringement had been proved, but the district court found that Durham possessed a shop right and dismissed Wommack’s claim. Wommack appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Gee, J.)

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