Briggs v. United Shoe Machinery Co. - 239 U.S. 48 (1915)


U.S. Supreme Court

Briggs v. United Shoe Machinery Co., 239 U.S. 48 (1915)

Briggs v. United Shoe Machinery Company

No. 638

Submitted October 12, 1915

Decided November 1, 1915

239 U.S. 48

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

A suit for royalties reserved upon the sale of a patent right is not a suit arising under the patent laws, and the district court does not have jurisdiction on that ground.

The bill in this case does not present a case in equity within §§ 4915 or 4918, Rev.Stat.

The general powers of the federal courts when sitting as courts of equity can only be exerted in cases otherwise within the jurisdiction of those courts as defined by Congress.

Only the United States can maintain a bill for the annulment of a patent on the ground of its procurement by fraud.

The facts, which involve the jurisdiction of the district court of the United States in cases arising under the patent laws, are stated in the opinion.

Page 239 U. S. 49

Memorandum opinion by MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER, by direction of the court:

Whether this suit between citizens of the same state is one arising under the patent laws is the only question presented by this direct appeal under Judicial Code, § 238. The district court gave a negative answer to the question, and dismissed the suit for want of jurisdiction.

The bill shows that its dominant and ultimate object is to enforce payment of royalties reserved to the plaintiff by a contract whereby he sold to the defendant certain existing and contemplated patents for improvements in shoe-sewing machines, and that, to clear the way for a recovery of all the royalties claimed, it seeks the annulment of a patent for such an improvement issued to Andrew Eppler after the contract, and then assigned to the defendant, and also an adjudication that the plaintiff is entitled to a patent for the improvement covered by the Eppler patent.

A suit for royalties reserved upon the sale of a patent right is not a suit arising under the patent laws. This is settled by repeated decisions. Albright v. Texas, 106 U. S. 613; Excelsior Wooden Pipe Co. v. Pacific Bridge Co., 185 U. S. 282, 185 U. S. 285; Geneva Furniture Co. v. Karpen, 238 U. S. 254, 238 U. S. 259, and cases cited.

While the patent laws (Rev.Stat. §§ 4915, 4918) permit an applicant for a patent whose application has been refused by the Commissioner of Patents, or by the court of appeals * of the District of Columbia upon appeal from the Commissioner, to establish his right to receive a patent by a suit in equity, and also permit a patentee to maintain a suit in equity against the owner of an interfering

Page 239 U. S. 50

patent to annul the latter, the present bill falls so far short of presenting a case within either section that it reasonably cannot be said to invoke the application of either. Recognizing that this is so, counsel for the plaintiff, in his brief, not only frankly concedes that he finds no statute in point, but endeavors to maintain the jurisdiction of the district court by a reference to the general powers of federal courts when sitting as courts of equity, evidently forgetting that such powers can be exerted only in cases otherwise within the jurisdiction of those courts as defined by Congress.

Some stress is laid in the brief upon portions of the bill charging fraud in the procurement of the Eppler patent, but, as only the United States can maintain a bill to annul the patent on that ground (Mowry v. Whitney, 14 Wall. 434; United States v. Bell Telephone Co., 128 U. S. 315, 128 U. S. 368; United States v. American Bell Telephone Co., 159 U. S. 548, 159 U. S. 555), these allegations cannot affect the solution of the question of jurisdiction here presented.

Our conclusion is that this is not a suit arising under the patent laws.

Decree affirmed.

* See § 9, Act Feb. 9, 1893, c. 74, 27 Stat. 434.



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