Where there was a telegraph company from Baltimore to Wheeling,
with branches to Washington and Pittsburg, and another company from
Pittsburg to Philadelphia, and from Harrisburg to Baltimore, and
the former company complained that the latter received messages at
Philadelphia, sent from Pittsburg and Wheeling, directed to
Baltimore and Washington, and there was no direct infringement of
the patent right nor any violation of a contract, the case is
without a legal remedy.
Every person is at liberty to use a circuitous route if he
prefers it to a shorter route.
The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.
Page 62 U. S. 457
MR. JUSTICE McLEAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
On the 30th of April, 1849, a contract was entered into between
Amos Kendall, as attorney in fact for Samuel F. B. Morse and Alfred
Vail of the first part and the Western Telegraph Company of the
In the agreement it was stated that the United States had
heretofore granted to Samuel F. B. Morse letters patent for the
Page 62 U. S. 458
magnetic telegraph, known as Morse's Telegraph, and that the
said Morse subsequently assigned a portion of his interest in the
said letters patent to Alfred and Leonard V. Gale, and the said
Morse, Gale, and Vail subsequently, by letters of attorney,
recorded among the transfers of patent rights, constituted Amos
Kendall their true and lawful attorney, for them and in their
"And whereas the said Western Telegraph Company are desirous to
obtain, in due form, the privileges of said letters patent for
lines of telegraph belonging to them between Baltimore and
Wheeling, with a branch therefrom to Washington city, and a branch
from Brownsville to the City of Pittsburg:"
"Now the said Amos Kendall, in consideration of thirty-six
thousand dollars paid to him in the stock certificates of the
Western Telegraph Company, hath, as far as he possesses legal
authority, by virtue of the power of attorney aforesaid, or
otherwise, granted, assigned, and conveyed, to the Western
Telegraph Company, the full and exclusive right to use the
invention of the said Morse, secured by letters patent on the said
lines from Baltimore to Wheeling, with branches to Washington and
Pittsburgh, respectively, for the remainder of the time yet to come
in the said letters patent, with the benefit of any extensions and
renewals thereof, it being understood that the right granted is to
be for one wire only, unless with the consent of the patentee."
And Francis O. J. Smith conveyed his right to the Western
Telegraph Company's existing lines from Baltimore, in the State of
Maryland, to Wheeling, in the State of Virginia, and in branches to
Washington and Pittsburg cities, in full right, on the 27th of
These conveyances vested in the Western Telegraph Company all
the right which the patentee had, on the conditions stated, to use
and enjoy the lines designated for the transmission of telegraphic
messages, in as full and ample a manner as the patentee could
himself have enjoyed, had no assignment of his right been made.
But it is alleged that another assignment of Morse's patent was
made to a company from Pittsburg to Philadelphia, and
Page 62 U. S. 459
to another company from Harrisburg to Baltimore, and that, by
conspiring with those companies, the Magnetic Company has taken
messages at Philadelphia, sent from Pittsburg and Wheeling,
directed to Baltimore and Washington, and other similar messages
from the Harrisburg line directed to Washington; and also messages
from Washington and Baltimore, by Philadelphia and Harrisburg, to
Wheeling and Pittsburgh, and through those points to points further
west; and that this was done by uniting the lines or working them
together, under a contract, in order that they might get, in
conjunction with the other companies, the whole of the business
between those points.
The complainants do not seem to be well advised as to what means
of combination, conspiracy, or contract, the injury complained of
has been done; but they charge that, by the means alleged, their
lines have in a degree been destroyed. They are only able to say
that the business on their lines has been diverted by the magnetic
lines. And the equitable powers of the court are invoked against
the injuries complained of.
The bill does not allege any direct infringement of the patent
owned by the Western Telegraph Company by the Magnetic Company.
Those lines are free to transmit any messages that may be forwarded
on them. But the complaint seems to be that at the points where the
operations of the Western Telegraph cease, whether it be east,
north, or west, the messages are not forwarded by the Western
Telegraph, but they are, by the means used, diverted from those
lines and sent by circuitous routes, or at least by lines of
It must be expected that great competition will exist in the
transmission of intelligence, where telegraphic lines have been
established throughout the country. But it would be difficult to
find a remedy for these evils, whether real or supposed, which are
not founded on contract. It was in the power of the Western
Telegraph Company to form connections with other lines so as to
secure uninterrupted communications. But if these precautions have
not been observed, and a supposed convenience or dispatch has been
deemed a sufficient security for the cooperation of the lines
connected with the Western Telegraph
Page 62 U. S. 460
Company, and no contract, express or implied, is shown, the
complainant is without remedy.
Men, unless legally bound to certain duties, may, from whim or
caprice, indulge their supposed interests or resentments with out
responsibility. Unless certain rates of transmitting intelligence
have been established, a reduction of such rates, whether done
secretly or publicly, will affect the profits on other lines.
Nothing set up in the bill in the form of a contract entitles
the complainant to relief. A choice of lines may well be exercised,
if there be no violation of the patent, although the circuitous
line passes over a greater distance, as this can be no ground of
complaint. It violates no contract, and almost necessarily grows
out of the competition in this branch of business.
From the facts stated in the bill, there seems to be no ground