Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


October 1, 1873


APPEAL from the Circuit Court for the District of Massachusetts; the case being thus: On the 26th day of May, 1863, letters-patent were granted to Merrill & Horner, for a certain improvement in coffinlids, giving to them the exclusive right of making, using, and vending to others to be used, the said improvement. On the 13th day of March, 1865, Merrill & Horner, the patentees, by an assignment duly executed and recorded, assigned to Lockhart & Seelye, of Cambridge, in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, all the right, title, and interest which the said patentees had in the invention described in the said letters-patent, for, to, and in a circle whose radius is ten miles, having the city of Boston as a centre. They subsequently assigned the patent, or what right they retained in it, to one Adams. Adams now filed a bill in the court below, against a certain Burke, an undertaker, who used in the town of Natick (a town about seventeen miles from Boston, and therefore outside of the circle above mentioned) coffins with lids of the kind patented, alleging him to be an infringer of their patent, and praying for an injunction, discovery, profits, and other relief suitable against an infringer. The defendant pleaded in bar: 'That he carries on the business of an undertaker, having his place of business in Natick, in said district; that, in the exercise of his said business, he is employed to bury the dead; the when so employed it is his custom to procure hearses, coffins, and whatever else may be necessary or proper for burials, and to superintend the preparation of graves, and that his bills for his services in each case, and the coffin, hearse, and other articles procured by him, are paid by the personal representatives of the deceased; that, since the date of the alleged assignment to the plaintiff of an interest in the invention secured by the said letters-patent, he has sold no coffins, unless the use of coffins by him in his said business, as above described, shall be deemed a sale; has used no coffins, except in his said business as aforesaid; and has manufactured no coffins containing the said invention; and that since the said date he has used in his business as aforesaid, in Natick, no coffin containing the invention secured by said letters-patent, except such coffins containing said invention as have been manufactured by said Lockhart & Seelye, within a circle, whose radius is ten miles, having the city of Boston as its centre, and sold within said circle by said Lockhart & Seelye, without condition or restriction.' The validity of this plea was the question in the case. The court below, referring to the case of Bloomer v. McQuewan,*fn1 in which Taney, C. J., delivering the opinion of the court, said: 'When a machine passes to the hands of the purchaser, it is no longer within the limits of the monopoly. It passes outside of it, and is no longer under the protection of the act of Congress.' And referring also to some other cases, held that the plea was good. And from a decree which followed, dismissing, of course, the bill, this appeal was taken.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Miller delivered the opinion of the court.

Mr. C. B. Goodrich, for the appellant; Messrs. R. H. Dana and L. S. Dabney, contra.

The question presented by the plea in this case is a very interesting one in patent law, and the precise point in it has never been decided by this court, though cases involving some of the considerations which apply to it have been decided, and others of analogous character are frequently recurring. The vast pecuniary results involved in such cases, as well as the public interest, admonish us to proceed with care, and to decide in each case no more than what is directly in issue.

We have repeatedly held that where a person had purchased a patented machine of the patentee or his assignee, this purchase carried with it the right to the use of that machine so long as it was capable of use, and that the expiration and renewal of the patent, whether in favor of the original patentee or of his assignee, did not affect this right. The true ground on which these decisions rest is that the sale by a person who has the full right to make, sell, and use such a machine carries with it the right to the use of that machine to the full extent to which it can be used in point of time.

The right to manufacture, the right to sell, and the right to use are each substantive rights, and may be granted or conferred separately by the patentee.

But, in the essential nature of things, when the patentee, or the person having his rights, sells a machine or instrument whose sole value is in its use, he receives the consideration for its use and he parts with the right to restrict that use. The article, in the language of the court, passes without the limit of the monopoly.*fn2 That is to say, the patentee or his assignee having in the act of sale received all the royalty or consideration which he claims for the use of his invention in that particular machine or instrument, it is open to the use of the purchaser without further restriction on account of the monopoly of the patentees.

If this principle be sound as to a machine or instrument whose use may be continued for a number of years, and may extend beyond the existence of the patent, as limited at the time of the sale, and into the period of a renewal or extension, it must be much more applicable to an instrument or product of patented manufacture which perishes in the first use of it, or which, by that first use, becomes incapable of further use, and of no further value. Such is the case with the coffin-lids of appellant's patent.

It seems to us that, although the right of Lockhart & Seelye to manufacture, to sell, and to use these coffin-lids was limited to the circle of ten miles around Boston, that a purchaser from them of a single coffin acquired the right to use that coffin for the purpose for which all coffins are used. That so far as the use of it was concerned, the patentee had received his consideration, and it was no longer within the monopoly of the patent. It would be to engraft a limitation upon the right of use not contemplated by the statute nor within the reason of the contract to say that it could only be used within the ten-miles circle. Whatever, therefore, may be the rule when patentees subdivide territorially their patents, as to the exclusive right to make to to sell within a limited territory, we hold that in the class of machines or implements we have described, when they are once lawfully made and sold, there is no restriction on their use to be implied for the benefit of the patentee or his assignees or licensees.

A careful examination of the plea satisfies us that the defendant, who, as an undertaker, purchased each of these coffins and used it in burying the body which he was employed to bury, acquired the right to this use of it freed from any claim of the patentee, though purchased within the ten-mile circle and used without it.

The decree of the Circuit Court dismissing the plaintiff's bill is, therefore,


Mr. Justice BRADLEY (with whom concurred Justices SWAYNE and STRONG), dissenting:

The question raised in this case is whether an assignment of a patented invention for a limited district, such as a city, a county, or a State, confers upon the assignee the right to sell the patented article to be used outside of such limited district. The defendant justifies under such a claim. He uses a patented article outside of the territory within which the patent was assigned to the persons from whom he purchased it. The plaintiff, who claims under the original patentee, complains that this is a transgression of the limits of the assignment.

If it were a question of legislative policy, whether a patentee should be allowed to divide up his monopoly into territorial parcels, it might admit of grave doubt whether a vendee of the patented article purchasing it rightfully, ought to be restrained or limited as to the place of its use. But the patent act gives to the patentee a monopoly of use, as well as of manufacture, throughout the whole United States; and the eleventh section of the act (of 1836) expressly authorizes not only an assignment of the whole patent, or any undivided part thereof, but a 'grant and conveyance of the exclusive right under any ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.