Philadelphia & Trenton R. Co. v. Stimpson,
39 U.S. 448 (1840)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Philadelphia & Trenton R. Co. v. Stimpson, 39 U.S. 14 Pet. 448 448 (1840)

Philadelphia & Trenton Railroad Company v. Stimpson

39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 448


Action for the violation of a patent right, granted to the patentee for "a new and useful improvement in turning short curves on railroads."

On 26 September, 1835, a second patent was granted, the original patent, granted in 1831, having been surrendered and cancelled on account of a defective specification, the second patent being for fourteen years from the date of the original patent. The second patent was in the precise form of the original, except the recital of the fact that the former patent was cancelled "on account of a defective specification" and the statement of the time the second patent was to begin to run. It was objected that the second patent should not be admitted in evidence on the trial of the case because it did not contain any recitals that the prerequisites of the act of Congress of 1836, authorizing the renewal of patents had been complied with. Held that this objection cannot in point of law be maintained. The patent was issued under the great seal of the United States and is signed by the President and countersigned by the

Secretary of State. It is a presumption of law that all public officers, and especially such high functionaries, perform their proper official duties until the contrary is proved. Where an act is to be done or patent granted upon evidence and proofs to be laid before a public officer upon which he is to decide, the fact that he has done the act in granting the patent is prima facie evidence that the proofs have been regularly made, and were

satisfactory. No other tribunal is at liberty to reexamine or controvert the sufficiency of such proofs, when the law has made the officer the proper judge of their sufficiency and competency.

Patents for lands, equally with patents for inventions, have in courts of justice been deemed prima facie evidence that they have been regularly granted, whenever they have been produced under the great seal of the government, without any recitals or proofs that the prerequisites of the acts under which they have been issued have been duly observed. In cases of patents, the United States have gone one step further, and as the patentee is required to make oath that he is the true inventor before he can obtain a patent, the patent has been deemed prima facie evidence that he has made the invention.

It is incumbent on those who seek to show that the examination of a witness has been improperly rejected to establish their right to have the evidence admitted, for the court will be presumed to have acted correctly until the contrary is established.

To entitle a party to examine a witness in a patent cause the purpose of whose testimony is to disprove the right of the patentee to the invention by showing its use prior to the patent by others, the provisions of the patent act of 1836 relative to notice must be strictly complied with.

It is incumbent on those who insist upon the right to put particular questions to a witness to establish that right beyond any reasonable doubt for the very purpose stated by them, and they are not afterwards at liberty to desert that purpose and to show the pertinency or relevancy of the evidence for any other purpose not then suggested to the court.

A party has no right to cross-examine any witness except as to facts and circumstances connected with the matters stated in his direct examination. If he wishes to examine him on other matters, he must do so by making the witness his own and calling him as such in the subsequent progress of the cause. A party cannot, by his own omission to take an objection to the admission of improper evidence, brought out on a cross-examination, found a right to introduce testimony in chief to rebut it or explain it.

Parol evidence bearing upon written contracts and papers ought not to be admitted in evidence without the production of such written contracts or papers so as to enable both the court and the jury to see whether or not the admission of the parol evidence in any manner will trench upon the rule that parol evidence is not admissible to vary or contradict written contracts or papers.

As a general rule, and upon general principles, the declarations and conversations of the plaintiff are not admissible evidence in favor of his own rights. This is, however, but a general rule, and admits and requires various exceptions. There are many cases in which a party may show his declarations comport with acts in his own favor, as a part

Page 39 U. S. 449

of the res gestae. There are other cases in which his material declarations have been admitted.

In an action for an assault and battery and wounding, the declarations of the plaintiff to his internal pains, aches, injuries, and symptoms, to the physician attending him are admissible for the purpose of showing the nature and extent of the injuries done to him. In many cases of inventions, it is hardly possible in any other manner to ascertain the precise time and exact origin of the invention.

The conversations and declarations of a patentee merely affirming that at some former period he had invented a particular machine may well be objected to. But his conversations and declarations, stating that he had made an invention and describing its details and explaining its operations are properly deemed an assertion of his right, at that time, as an inventor, to the extent of the facts and details which he then makes known, although not of their existence at an anterior time. Such declarations, coupled with a description of the nature and objects of the invention, are to be deemed a part of the res gestae, and legitimate evidence that the invention was then known and claimed by him, and thus its origin may be fixed at least as early as that period.

If the rejection of evidence is a matter resting in the sound discretion of the court, this cannot be assigned as error.

The mode of conducting trials, the order of introducing evidence, and the times when it is to be introduced are properly matters belonging to the practice of the circuit courts, with which the Supreme Court ought not to interfere unless it shall chose to prescribe some fixed general rules on the subject, under the authority of the act of Congress. The circuit courts possess this discretion in as ample a manner as other judicial tribunals.

Testimony was not offered by a defendant or stated by him as matter of defense in the stage of the cause when it is usually introduced according to the practice of the court. It was offered after the defendant's counsel had stated in open court that they had closed their evidence, and after the plaintiff, in consequence of that declaration, had discharged his own witness. The circuit court refused to admit the testimony. Held that this decision was proper.

At the April session of the circuit court, James Stimpson instituted an action against the plaintiffs in error for the recovery of damages, for the violation of a patent granted to him by the United States on 26 September, 1835, for "a new and useful improvement in the mode of turning short curves on railroads."

The case was tried on 16 February, 1839, and a verdict was rendered for the plaintiff for the sum of four thousand two hundred and fifty dollars. On 6 May, 1839, a remittitur was entered on the docket of the court for the sum of one thousand dollars and a judgment was entered for the plaintiff for three thousand two hundred and fifty dollars.

On the trial of the cause, the defendants tendered a bill of exceptions to the decision of the court on its admitting the patent to the plaintiff in evidence and to other rulings of the court in the course of the trial. The defendants prosecuted this writ of error.

The patent granted by the United States to James Stimpson was as follows:

"The United States of America; to all to whom these letters patent shall come."

"Whereas, James Stimpson, a citizen of the United States, hath alleged that he has invented a new and useful improvement in the

Page 39 U. S. 450

mode of turning short curves on railroads, for which letters patent were granted the twenty-third day of August, 1831, which letters being hereby cancelled on account of a defective specification, which improvement, he states, has not been known or used before his application, hath made oath that he does verily believe that he is the true inventor or discoverer of the said improvement, hath paid into the Treasury of the United States the sum of thirty dollars, delivered a receipt for the same, and presented a petition to the Secretary of State, signifying a desire of obtaining an exclusive property in the said improvement, and praying that a patent may be granted for that purpose. These are therefore to grant according to law to the said James Stimpson, his heirs, administrators, or assigns, for the term of fourteen years from the twenty-third day of August, 1831, the full and exclusive right and liberty of making, constructing, using, and vending to others to be used, the said improvement, a description whereof is given in the words of the said James Stimpson himself in the schedule hereto annexed."

"Tested at Washington under the seal of the United States on 26 September, 1836, by the President of the United States and certified in the usual form by the Attorney General of the United States."

"The schedule referred to in these letters patent, and making a part of the same," contained

"a description in the words of the said James Stimpson himself of his improvement in the mode of turning short curves on railroads, for which letters patent were granted, dated 23 August, 1831, which letters patent being hereby cancelled on account of a defective specification."

The specification describes the invention with minute particularity, and concludes:

"What I claim as my invention or improvement is the application of the flanges of the wheels on one side of railroad carriages, and of the treads of the wheels on the other side, to turn curves upon railways, particularly such as turning the corners of the streets, wharves, &c., in cities and elsewhere, operating upon the principle herein set forth."

The bill of exceptions stated that the counsel for the plaintiff offered in evidence the patent and specification, to the admission of which in evidence the counsel for the defendant objected, but the objection was overruled by the court, and the evidence was admitted.

2. The defendants offered to give in evidence, by Josiah White, the description of a flange upon one side of the railroad cars, and the running upon the tread of the wheel upon the other side, with the flange in a groove, for the turning of curves, which he had seen in use before the date of plaintiff's patent, which was objected to by the counsel for the plaintiff, and the objection sustained by the court. The objection of the counsel for the plaintiff to the introduction of the testimony of Josiah White, was founded on the absence

Page 39 U. S. 451

of the notice required by the Act of Congress of the use of the machine at Mauch Chunk, at which place, it was said, his testimony would show it had been used.

3. The third exception was to the refusal of the court to allow the defendants to introduce proof of the conversations between the patentee and the counsel of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, while an arrangement of a suit against the Company was made, as to the character and effects of the arrangements.

4. The counsel for the plaintiff, by rebutting evidence, to extend his claim to the invention prior to the time at which the defendants had proved the reduction of the same into use and practice by others, offered to give evidence by witnesses of the conversations of the patentee on the subject of his invention at an anterior period; which conversations were intended to show the making of the invention by the patentee, before and at the period when the same took place. The counsel for the defendants objected to the admission of this testimony, but the court overruled the objection.

5. The fifth exception was to the refusal of the court to admit the examination of Dr. Thomas P. Jones. The plaintiff had discharged his witnesses on the declaration of the defendants' counsel that they had closed their evidence. The testimony asked from Dr. Jones was to new facts. The court refused to admit the testimony, on the ground that the testimony was improper, and that it was offered too late.

Page 39 U. S. 457

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