Adams v. Burke

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Court Documents
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

84 U.S. 453

Adams  v.  Burke

APPEAL from the Circuit Court for the District of Massachusetts; the case being thus:

On the 26th day of May, 1863, letters-patent were granted to Merrill & Horner, for a certain improvement in coffinlids, 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 centre. 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; the 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 city of Boston as its centre, 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, [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.

Mr. C. B. Goodrich, for the appellant; Messrs. R. H. Dana and L. S. Dabney, contra.

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  14 Howard, 549.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).