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RUDE v. WESTCOTT.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: March 18, 1889.

RUDE
v.
WESTCOTT.

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF INDIANA.

Author: Field

[ 130 U.S. Page 162]

 MR. JUSTICE FIELD having stated the facts of the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The defendants below, appellants here, seek a reversal of the decree of the Circuit Court upon several grounds, and, among others, these: 1st, that the complainants have not established a title in themselves to the patents; and 2d, that they have not proved any damages for the infringement of the claims of the patentee.

The first of these grounds rests upon the supposed effect of the assignment executed by the patentee to the complainants on the 6th of October, 1874. The instrument in its words of transfer is amply full and expressive to convey to them his entire interest in and title to not only the patents then issued, but also any renewals or extensions thereof. His language is:

"I, the said Hiram Moore, do hereby assign, sell and set over unto the said Charles W. West and John M. Westcott the entire right, title and interest in and to the letters patent aforesaid, and in and to the invention and improvements represented, shown, or described therein, including any renewal, reissue, or extension thereof, the same to be held and enjoyed by the said West and Westcott, and their legal representatives, as fully and entirely as the same would have been held and enjoyed by me had this assignment and sale not been made, to the full end of any term or terms for which the letters patent aforesaid, or either of them, have been, or hereafter may be, granted, reissued, renewed, or extended."

Nothing could add to the force of this language. The concluding provision, that the net profits arising from sales, royalties,

[ 130 U.S. Page 163]

     or settlements, or other source, are to be divided between the parties to the assignment so as to give the patentee one fourth thereof, does not, in any respect, modify or limit the absolute transfer of title. It is a provision by which the consideration for the transfer is to be paid to the grantor out of the net profits made; it reserves to him no control over the patents or their use or disposal, or any power to interfere with the management of the business growing out of their ownership. The clause appointing the assignees attorneys of the grantor, with authority to use his name whenever they deem proper in such management, does not restrict in any way the power of the assignees after the transfer of the property. It was inserted, perhaps, from over-caution, but it was unnecessary. The assignees were under no obligation to consult him in the management of the property. Their own interests were a sufficient guarantee of a judicious exercise of their power of disposition.

The assignment of Westcott to Kinsey and Morris does speak of an interest possessed by him in the patents, but it explains what that interest is, viz., one half part of the net profits from the patents, arising from sales, royalties, or settlements, or other source, and it refers to the original assignment of the patentee to West and Westcott.

It follows that the contention of the defendants, that the complainants have not established their title to the patents, is not sustained. The complainants do not hold the property as trustees for the benefit of the patentee; they are only trustees for him of one fourth of the profits which may be received by them. Tilghman v. Proctor, 125 U.S. 136, 143.

The second ground of the appellants is, we think, well taken. The master reported in his first report that the complainants waived all claim for profits arising from the manufacture, use and sale of the patented machines, and relied upon the proofs as establishing such a fixed royalth or license fee as would furnish a criterion by which to estimate complainants' damages; and proceeding upon that view, he found from two instances, and perhaps a third instance, in which a specified sum had been paid for the use of the machines, or for the privilege

[ 130 U.S. Page 164]

     of making and selling them, that the complainants had suffered damages on each one-horse machine used by the defendants of one dollar, and on each two-house machine used by them of two dollars. One of the instances relied upon was that of the Wayne Agricultural Company, which had paid the sums named for the use of the machines for four years. It is not clear when the payment was made, but it would seem that it was made in part under a threat of suit, and in part as the result of an arbitration after litigation on the subject had been commenced, and to avoid future litigation. It is clear that a payment of any sum in settlement of a claim for an alleged infringement cannot be taken as a standard to measure the value of the improvements patented, in determining the damages sustained by the owners of the patent in other cases of infringement. Many considerations other than the value of the improvements patented may induce the payment in such cases. The avoidance of the risk and expense of litigation will always be a potential motive for a settlement. The second instance relied upon is that of a corporation by the name of P.P. Mast & Co., which had obtained a license to manufacture grain-drills and seeders at Springfield, Ohio, and to sell the same within the United States, upon an agreement to pay one dollar for every one-horse drill or seeder and two dollars for every two-house drill, provided that if the fee were paid upon the days designated for semi-annual returns, or within ten days thereafter, a reduction of fifty per cent should be made from the fee. The corporation soon afterwards changed its feeding device, and thus did not infringe, and it settled for a portion of the fees; but it does not appear what they were. It is plain, without regard to the settlement had, that an agreement of this kind, where the charge may be fixed at the pleasure of the owner of the patent, cannot be received as evidence of the value of the improvements patented so as to bind others having no such agreement. The third instance is that of an alleged license to English & Over. The complainant Westcott testifies that they continued to pay as long as they were in partnership, but how much, or how long that partnership continued, does not appear. And Mr. Over, a member of that firm, does

[ 130 U.S. Page 165]

     not recollect that it ever took a license. Westcott also testifies that no other persons or corporations than those mentioned ever took any licenses from them under the patents sued upon.

It is undoubtedly true that where there has been such a number of sales by a patentee of licenses to make, use and sell his patents, as to establish a regular price for a license, that price may be taken as a measure of damages against infringers. That rule was established in Seymour v. McCormick, 16 How. 480, and affirmed in Corporation of New York v. Ransom, 23 How. 487; Packet Co. v. Sickles, 19 Wall. 611, 617; Birdsall v. Coolidge, 93 U.S. 64; and Root v. Railway Co., 105 U.S. 189, 197. Sales of licenses, made at periods years apart, will not establish any rule on the subject and determine the value of the patent.Like sales of ordinary goods, they must be common, that is, of frequent occurrence, to establish such a market price for the article that it may be assumed to express, with reference to all similar articles, their salable value at the place designated. In order that a royalty may be accepted as a measure of damages against an infringer, who is a stranger to the license establishing it, it must be paid or secured before the infringement complained of; it must be paid by such a number of persons as to indicate a general acquiescence in its reasonableness by those who have occasion to use the invention; and it must be uniform at the places where the licenses are issued. Tested by these conditions, the sums paid in the instances mentioned, upon which the master relied, cannot be regarded as evidence of the value to the defendants of the invention patented. The court below so treated them, and held that without further evidence the complainants would be entitled only to nominal damages, and remanded the case to the master to take further evidence. He did so, but in his second report he stated that the additional evidence did not strengthen the proofs previously made in support of the claim that complainants had established a license fee or royalty which furnished a criterion by which to estimate the damages. He therefore proceeded to estimate the value of the claim or combination patented, to the defendants, who had used it in violation of the complainants' rights,

[ 130 U.S. Page 166]

     and for that purpose took the opinions of different persons on the subject. Of the witnesses produced by the complainants, it does not appear that any ever manufactured or used the patented machines. One of the principal witnesses stated that he had never read the patent, had never seen a drill made like that described, had no experience in the matter of licenses, and that he placed his estimate of the value of the claim patented at what he considered would be a fair recompense to the inventor. The estimates of all the witnesses of the complainants were merely conjectural; that is, were made without having knowledge of any saving secured either in the cost of the machine or in the labor required for its use, they simply stating that they considered that the amounts named by them would be a reasonable and fair royalty or license fee for the patented drill. Naturally estimates founded upon supposed but not known benefits were widely apart, varying from three to six dollars for a two-horse drill and half those sums for a single horse drill. On the other hand, witnesses produced by the defendants, who had examined, and some of whom had used, the patented drills, stated that they did not consider them of any more utility than other seeding drills in use, and that they did not bring any greater price in the market. The master does not appear to have given weight to the judgment of any of the witnesses, but concluded, though by what process of reasoning is not perceived, that seventy-five cents on each one-horse drill and double that sum on each two-horse drill would be the proper amount to allow, and as he had found, though upon testimony equally loose and insufficient, that there were one thousand one-horse drills and an equal number of two-horse drills, he reported that the complainants were entitled to $2250 as damages. The court was not satisfied with his conclusion, and, without stating the ground of its action, ordered the amount to be reduced to $1800 as damages which the plaintiff should recover, besides costs, and $150 fee for the master, sustaining the exceptions to the report so far as it was inconsistent with that decree, and in other respects overruling them.

The action of the court is subject to the same objection as

[ 130 U.S. Page 167]

     the report of the master. The ruling that a royalty was established, as made in the first report, had been repudiated by it, and no evidence of the value of the invention to the defendants was adduced except the conjectural estimates stated; and they furnished no satisfactory basis for any damages; much less data, which authorized the specific finding made as to the damages for each drill used. Opinions not founded on knowledge were of no value. Conclusions from such opinions were at best mere guesses. By the decision rendered a settled rule of law was violated, the actual, not speculative, damages must be shown, and by clear and definite proof, to warrant a recovery for the infringement of a patent. As was said long ago by this court: "Actual damages must be calculated, not imagined; and an arithmetical calculation cannot be made without certain data on which no make it." New York v. Ransom, 23 How. 487, 488. There was no question in this case of damages arising from lost sales, or injurious competition, for no machines had been manufactured and put on the market by the patentee, or by the complainants, his assignees.

No legal ground being shown for the recovery of specific damages for the alleged infringement of the patents, the decree must be

Reversed, and the cause remanded, with directions to enter a decree for the complainants for nominal damages.

18890318

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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