Adams v. Burke
84 U.S. 453 (1873)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Adams v. Burke, 84 U.S. 17 Wall. 453 453 (1873)

Adams v. Burke

84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 453

Syllabus

1. Where a patentee has assigned his right to manufacture, sell, and use within a limited district an instrument, machine, or other manufactured product, a purchaser of such instrument or machine, when rightfully bought within the prescribed limits, acquires by such purchase the right to use it anywhere, without reference to other assignments of territorial rights by the same patentee.

2. The right to the use of such machines or instruments stands on a different ground from the right to make and sell them, and inheres in the nature of a contract of purchase, which carries no implied limitation of the right of use within a given locality.

On the 26th day of May, 1863, letters patent were granted

Page 84 U. S. 454

to Merrill & Horner for a certain improvement in coffin lids, 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 center. 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; that 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

Page 84 U. S. 455

City of Boston as its center, 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, [Footnote 1] 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.

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