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ARO MFG. CO., INC. V. CONVERTIBLE TOP CO., 365 U. S. 336 (1961)

U.S. Supreme Court

Aro Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Convertible Top Co., 365 U.S. 336 (1961)

Aro Manufacturing Co., Inc. v.

Convertible Top Replacement Co., Inc.

No. 21

Argued October 13, 17, 1960

Decided February 27, 1961

365 U.S. 336


The owner of all territorial rights in a certain area in Patent No. 2,569,724, covering the combination, in an automobile body, of a flexible top fabric, supporting structures, and a mechanism for sealing the fabric against the side of the automobile body to keep out the rain, brought this infringement suit against petitioners, which manufacture and sell replacement fabrics designed to fit the models of convertible automobiles equipped with tops embodying the combination covered by the patent. The patent covered only the combination of certain unpatented components and made no claim to invention based on the fabric or on its shape, pattern or design.

Held: Petitioners were not guilty of either direct or contributory infringement of the patent. Pp. 365 U. S. 337-346.

(a) Since the fabric was no more than an unpatented element of the combination which was claimed as the invention, and the patent did not confer a monopoly over the fabric or its shape, petitioners' manufacture and sale of the fabric did not constitute a direct infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(a). Pp. 365 U. S. 339-340.

(b) Even though petitioners knew that the purchasers intended to use the fabric for replacement purposes on automobile convertible tops covered by the claims on respondent's combination patent, petitioners' manufacture and sale would constitute contributory infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(c) only if such a replacement by the purchaser himself would, in itself, constitute a direct infringement under § 271(a). Pp. 365 U. S. 340-342.

(c) A car owner would not infringe the combination patent by replacing the worn-out fabric of the patented convertible top on his car, since such a replacement by the car owner is a permissible "repair" and not an infringing "reconstruction." Pp. 365 U. S. 342-346.

(d) No element, not itself separately patented, that constitutes one of the elements of a combination patent is entitled to patent

Page 365 U. S. 337

monopoly, however essential it may be to the patented combination and no matter how costly or difficult the replacement may be. Pp. 365 U. S. 344-346.

270 F.2d 200 reversed.

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