Black v. Thorne,
111 U.S. 122 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Black v. Thorne, 111 U.S. 122 (1884)

Black v. Thorne

Argued January 24, 1884

Decided March 24, 1884

111 U.S. 122


Damages must be nominal in an action where the infringement of a patent was established and it appeared that other methods in common use produced the same results with equal facility and cost and there was no proof of the exaction of a license fee for the use of the invention and its general payment.

This was a suit on the equity side of the court for the infringement of two patents, issued to the plaintiffs' intestate, one for an alleged

"new and useful improvement for burning tan bark, bagasse, sawdust, and other kinds of fuel, in a wet state, for the purpose of creating heat to generate steam, or to be employed in heating or drying operations,"

and the other for a "new and useful improvement in furnaces, in using as fuel bagasse and other carbonaceous substances, too wet to be conveniently burned in the usual way," with a prayer that the defendants may be decreed to account for and pay to the plaintiffs the gains and profits derived from making and using furnaces containing the inventions and improvements of the deceased, and be enjoined from further infringement.

The defendants contested the validity of the patents, but the court sustained them and held that the defendants had infringed them by the use of furnaces containing the improvements patented in burning wet tan to generate heat employed in the tanning of hides. It therefore decreed that the plaintiffs recover the profits and gains which the defendants had made from this use of the improvements, and ordered a reference to

Page 111 U. S. 123

a master to take testimony on the subject and state an account of them. It also granted the injunction prayed restraining further infringement.

The master took testimony on the subject and reported that the plaintiffs were entitled to recover from the defendants, as profits made by them from the infringement, the cost or value of the wood, which, but for the use of the patented inventions, they would have burned in generating heat for their tanneries, which amounted to over $44,000. Upon exceptions, this report was set aside, the court holding that the rule adopted to ascertain the profits made was erroneous. Black v. Thorne, 12 Blatchford 20. The case was thereupon again sent to the master, and further testimony was produced upon which he reported that there was no proof before him showing what profits, if any, had been made by the defendants from the use of the plaintiffs' improvements. This report was confirmed, and a decree entered pursuant to it that no profits were to be recovered of the defendants. From this decree the case is brought here by appeal.

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