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United States Supreme Court

81 U.S. 434

Mowry  v.  Whitney

APPEAL from the Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; the case being thus:

Asa Whitney, of Philadelphia, had obtained, on the 25th April, 1848, a patent for fourteen years for an improvement in annealing and cooling cast-iron car-wheels. This patent expired, of course, by its terms on the 25th of April, 1862.

Just before its expiration, that is to say, on the 21st of March, Albert Mowry, of Cincinnati, also obtained a patent for fourteen years, for a process for annealing car-wheels, of which he professed to be the inventor.

In March, 1862, Whitney-the expiration of his patent now approaching-applied to the Commissioner of Patents for an extension of the patent for seven years more. This extension was applied for in pursuance of a provision of the Patent Act of 1848, [1] which authorizes an extension where the patent has not been remunerative, and the act, therefore, requires that the patentee when applying for the extension shall—

'Furnish to the Commissioner of Patents a statement in writing, under oath, of the ascertained value of the invention, and of his receipts and expenditures sufficient in detail to exhibit a true and faithful account of loss and profit, in any manner, accruing to him from, and by reason of, the said invention.'

Whitney did furnish to the commissioner a statement, which purported to be such as the act required; and accordingly the extension was granted April 25th, 1862, for seven years from that date, or in other words, until 25th of April, 1869.

On the 21st of March, 1866, Whitney filed a bill in the Circuit Court for the Southern District of Ohio, to enjoin Mowry against proceeding in his business of annealing carwheels, on the ground that he Mowry by his process of annealing was infringing his Whitney's patent; and it being decided in the Circuit Court April 5th, 1867, on the hearing of the case, that Mowry was by his plan of annealing, infringing Whitney's patent, the question of damages came up. This being referred to a master, Whitney, in order to swell his damages, sought to prove (as Mowry alleged) that his profits had been very large; greatly larger than what he had sworn they were in the statement which he made before the commissioner, when seeking his extension. [2]

Hereupon, April 7th, 1870, Mowry filed a bill in chancery in the court below, representing the fact of Whitney's patent, and of the extension of it (annexing as exhibits all the patent, the certificate of extension, and all the affidavits and estimates on which the extension had been granted); setting forth his own patent, that he was sued by Whitney in a suit still pending; that in the progress of investigation necessary to his defence in that suit he had discovered the fraud by which the extension was obtained, and praying that it might be declared that Whitney's letters, granted on the 25th of April, 1848, and extended on the 7th of April, 1862, were, and are void and of no effect from and after the 25th of April, 1862.

The Patent Act of 1836, [3] it should be added, by its 16th section thus enacts:

'That whenever there shall be two interfering patents, or whenever a patent, on application shall have been refused on an adverse decision of a board of examiners, on the ground that the patent applied for would interfere with an unexpired patent previously granted, any person interested in any such patent either by assignment or otherwise, in the one case, and any such applicant in the other case, may have remedy by bill in equity; and the court having cognizance thereof, on notice to adverse parties and other due proceedings had, may adjudge and declare either the patents void, in the whole or in part, or inoperative and invalid in any particular part or portion of the United States, according to the interests which the parties to such suit may possess in the patent or the inventions patented; and may also adjudge that such applicant is entitled according to the principles and provisions of this act to have and receive a patent for his invention as specified in his claim, or for any part thereof, as the fact of priority of right or invention shall in any such case be made to appear. And such adjudication, if it be in favor of the right of such applicant, shall authorize the commissioner to issue such patent, on his filing a copy of the adjudication and otherwise complying with the requisitions of this act: Provided, however, That no such judgment or adjudication shall affect the rights of any person except the parties to the action, and those deriving title from or under them, subsequent to the rendition of such judgment.'

To the bill filed as above mentioned by Mowry, Whitney demurred, on these two, among other grounds:

1. That it appeared from the bill that the government of the United States was a necessary party complainant, but that the government was not made a party, nor was the suit brought at the instance of, nor by the authority, nor with the consent of the government.

2. That it appeared by the bill that the term for which the letters-patent sought to be cancelled were granted and extended had expired before the commencement of the suit.

The court below sustained the demurrer on these grounds and dismissed the bill. From that decree Mowry took this appeal.

Messrs. A. G. Thurman and C. B. Collier, for the appellant:

The bill charging and the demurrer confessing that the extension was procured by fraud, the extended patent must be regarded as void, ab initio, and as conferring no monopoly upon the patentee as against the public or the complainant.

Notwithstanding the expiration by limitation of Whitney's patent prior to the filing of the bill, the extended patent, until declared void for fraud, was and is alive and in effect for all purposes of suit for infringements of it that occurred during its existence. [4]

By reason of the fact that Whitney's patent had expired prior to the filing of the complainant's bill, the government was neither a necessary nor a proper party to the bill, and by reason of such expiration the bill could not have been maintained in the name of the government, it having no interest in the subject-matter of the controversy. [5]

Mowry, as appears on the face of his bill, has a direct and personal interest in the subject-matter of the suit; he is sued by Whitney for an alleged infringement of his patent in the Circuit Court for Ohio; he cannot avail himself of the fraud of the patentee as matter of defence to the suit in that court and in that cause; he is without remedy save in the court and according to the manner in which he has sought it by this proceeding. [6]

The extension of the patent having been confessedly procured fraudulently, and the government not being able to maintain a suit in relation to the patent by reason of its expiration, and having no further interest in it, the suit was properly and could only be brought by one who had a continuing interest in the patent, and whose rights were, notwithstanding its expiration, affected by it.

The primary object of the suit is that the complainant may be relieved from a prosecution whic is contrary to equity and good conscience, and the court is asked to find and declare that the patent, having been procured fraudulently, was ipso facto void as antecedent to obtaining the relief prayed for.

Mr. Henry Baldwin, Jr., contra:

There is no provision of law for any such proceeding as this to repeal a patent; and any proceeding for that purpose must be at the instance of the government. Instead of this bill being filed by the authority or with the consent of the government, it is on its face filed by an adjudged infringer against a patentee whose rights he has invaded, and whose statute remedy he now seeks to enjoin.

The demurrer admits the facts stated in the bill only so far as they are relevant and well pleaded. On the complainant's own showing, the allegations of fraud and suppressions and concealment stated in the bill are refuted by the exhibits annexed thereto and making part thereof.

The account rendered by the respondent to the Commissioner of Patents in connection with his application for extension, and a copy of which is annexed to the bill, is a public document on file and of record in the United States Patent Office at Washington City, for more than eight years prior to the commencement of this suit. During all this time it has been accessible to the knowledge and inspection of this appellant. Upon recourse to these records he could have discovered what he now relies on as newly-discovered evidence. [7]

The bill shows that the extended term of the respondent's patent expired April 24th, 1869, while this proceeding was not commenced until April 7th, 1870, nearly twelve months thereafter.

There is consequently no equity to support this application to set the extension aside, nor does anything remain which can be the subject of a suit. [8]

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  Act of May 27th, 1848, 6 Stat. at Large, 231, amending the act of July 4th, 1836; 5 Id. 124.

^2  For an account of this controversy see infra, p. 621.

^3  5 Stat. at Large, 124.

^4  Patent Laws, act of 1870, § 55.

^5  Bourne v. Goodyear, 9 Wallace, 811

^6  Wood v. Williams, 1 Gilpin, 517.

^7  Rubber Co. v. Goodyear, 9 Wallace, 805; Lord v. Goddard, 13 Howard, 198(211); Truly v. Wanzer, 5 Id. 141(143).

^8  Bourne v. Goodyear, 9 Wallace, 811; Minnesota Co. v. National Co., 3 Id. 332.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).