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decided: April 23, 1900.



Author: Brown

[ 177 U.S. Page 488]

 MR. JUSTICE BROWN, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

1. Plaintiff complains of the action of the Circuit Court of Appeals in refusing to follow the opinion of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in a case of this same plaintiff against the Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company, 49 U.S. App. 508, and in reversing the order of the Circuit Court, which, upon the ground of comity, followed the judgment of that court with respect to the validity and scope of the patent. Its contention is, practically, that the Circuit Court of Appeals should have been governed by the prior adjudication of that court, and, so far at least as concerned the interlocutory motion, should have accorded it the same force and dignity as is accorded to judgments of this court. Premising that these considerations can have no application in this court -- whose duty it is to review the judgments of all inferior courts, and in case of conflict to decide between them -- we think the plaintiff overstates somewhat the claims of comity.

Comity is not a rule of law, but one of practice, convenience and expediency. It is something more than mere courtesy, which implies only deference to the opinion of others, since it has a substantial value in securing uniformity of decision, and discouraging repeated litigation of the same question. But its obligation is not imperative. If it were, the indiscreet action of one court might become a precedent, increasing in weight with each successive adjudication, until the whole country was tied down to an unsound principle. Comity persuades; but it does not command. It declares not how a case shall be decided, but how it may with propriety be decided. It recognizes the fact that the primary duty of every court is to dispose of cases according to the law and the facts; in a word, to decide them right. In doing so, the judge is bound to determine them according to his own convictions. If he be clear in those convictions, he should follow them. It is only in cases where, in his own mind, there may be a doubt as to the soundness of his views that comity comes in play and suggests a uniformity of ruling to avoid confusion, until a higher court has settled the

[ 177 U.S. Page 489]

     law. It demands of no one that he shall abdicate his individual judgment, but only that deference shall be paid to the judgments of other coordinate tribunals. Clearly it applies only to questions which have been actually decided, and which arose under the same facts.

The obligation to follow the decisions of other courts in patent cases of course increases in proportion to the number of courts which have passed upon the question, and the concordance of opinion may have been so general as to become a controlling authority. So, too, if a prior adjudication has followed a final hearing upon pleadings and proofs, especially after a protracted litigation, greater weight should be given to it than if it were made upon a motion for a preliminary injunction. These are substantially the views embodied in a number of well-considered cases in the Circuit Courts and Circuit Courts of Appeals. Macbeth v. Gillinder, 54 Fed. Rep. 169; Electric Manufacturing Co. v. Edison Electric Light Co., 61 Fed. Rep. 834; S.C., 18 U.S. App. 637; Edison Electric Light Co. v. Beacon Vacuum Pump & Electrical Co., 54 Fed. Rep. 678, and cases cited; Beach v. Hobbs, 82 Fed. Rep. 916; S.C., 63 U.S. App. 626; see, also, Newall v. Wilson, 2 De Gex, M. & G. 282.

Comity, however, has no application to questions not considered by the prior court, or, in patent cases, to alleged anticipating devices which were not laid before that court. As to such the action of the court is purely original, though the fact that such anticipating devices were not called to the attention of the prior court is likely to open them to suspicion. It is scarcely necessary to say, however, that when the case reaches this court we should not reverse the action of the court below if we thought it correct upon the merits, though we were of opinion it had not given sufficient weight to the doctrine of comity.

2. The principal mechanism of an ordinary pumping windmill is directed to the conversion of the rapid rotation of the wind wheel into the perpendicular reciprocating movement of an ordinary pumping shaft. This is accomplished in much the same way that the revolution of a water wheel is made to operate an upright saw, namely, by means of a pitman -- of different

[ 177 U.S. Page 490]

     forms, but always with the object of converting one motion into another. In doing this the revolving wheel, during one half of a complete revolution, pulls, and during the other half pushes, upon the pitman. This change from a pulling to a pushing motion is accompanied, as the pitman rod passes over the center of motion, by a pounding, which not only produces a peculiar noise, but a strain upon the mechanism, resulting in frequent breakages. These poundings naturally increase in force as the mechanism becomes worn, and are sometimes heavy enough to strip the cogs from the wheels. Before the Martin patent the device usually employed was a small external toothed wheel or pinion mounted upon the shaft of the wind wheel, the cogs of which interlaced with the teeth or cogs of a large spur wheel, also externally toothed, and revolving at a greatly reduced speed, to which the pitman bar was attached. As both wheels were fitted with teeth on the outer edge of the rim, the consequence was that as each wheel presented its convexity to the other, but one or two teeth of either wheel engaged with the corresponding teeth of its fellow, and fractures of the teeth were frequent. There was also a tendency of the two wheels to draw apart. Martin obviated this by providing the large or spur wheel with teeth fitted on the inner side of the rim, whereby the concavity of the rim was opposed to the convexity of the pinion, and a greater number of teeth on each wheel engaged with the corresponding teeth of the other, and the strain occasioned by the change of motion was greatly reduced. That the invention was a useful and popular one is shown by the fact that it went into immediate use, and over three thousand windmills containing the combination are said to have been manufactured and sold since 1890.

Prior to Martin's patent, windmills of this class had been driven by externally toothed spur wheels, interlacing with externally toothed pinions, and hence were subject to the pounding motion which proved so destructive to the mechanism, and which it was the object of the Martin patent to obviate. The defence to this case is largely based upon the fact that the prior art had shown a large number ...

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