Monday, February 05, 2007

Blast from the past: the Sibley tent patent litigation

In a 2004 post, IPBiz had noted:

Willie Higinbotham did not file patents on the game, because he was a government employee and would achieve no direct benefit. [remember this theme in the history of radio patents, wherein one of the pioneers was an employee of the U.S. weather service and lost out big time?]

IPBiz notes an earlier case involving the Sibley tent used in the Civil War which seemingly came out differently. Sibley was in the US Army at the time of the patent, and one would think that inventing an improvement in a tent might be deemed in the scope of his employment. Sibley indeed did not get patent royalties, but only because he went over to the Confederates. The US Supreme Court took a very narrow view of scope of employment, writing in 79 U.S. 246 (1870):

>>If an officer in the military service, not specially employed to make experiments with a view to suggest improvements, devises a new and valuable improvement in arms, tents, or any other kind of war material, he is entitled to the benefit of it, and to letters- patent for the improvement from the United States, equally with any other citizen not engaged in such service; and the government cannot, after the patent is issued, make use of the improvement any more than a private individual, without license of the inventor or making compensation to him. <<

On the April 22, 1856, letters-patent were issued to Major H. H. Sibley for an improved tent, since known as the Sibley tent. The royalty involved was $5.00 per tent, a large sum in those days, and more than Spencer sought for his repeating rifle, used to great advantage by the men of George Armstrong Custer on July 3, 1863.


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