Wilson v. Rousseau/Dissent McLean

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinions

United States Supreme Court

45 U.S. 646

Wilson  v.  Rousseau

Mr. Justice McLEAN.

As I dissent from the opinion of the court, in their answer to to the second question certified, I will state, in few words, the reasons of my dissent.

The question is, whether the extension of the patent, under the act of 1836, to William W. Woodworth, the administrator, inured to the benefit of the assignees of the first patent.

I had occasion to consider this question in the case of Brooks and Morris v. Bicknell and Jenkins, on my circuit, and on a deliberate examination of the eighteenth section of the above act, I came to the conclusion, that unless the assignment gave to the assignee the right in the extended or renewed patent, his interest expired with the limitation of the original patent.

The lamented Justice Story, without any interchange of opinion between us, about the same time, gave the same construction to the section. The late Mr. Justice Thompson, and several of the district judges of the United States, have construed the act in the same way.

The eleventh section of the act makes the patent assignable in law, either as to the whole interest or any undivided part thereof, by any instrument of writing, which is required to be recorded in the patent-office within three months from the date.

By the eighteenth section, the patentee may make application or the extension of his patent to the Commissioner, who is required to publish a notice of such application 'in one or more of the principal newspapers in the city of Washington, and in such other paper or papers as he may deem proper, published in the section of country most interested adversely to the extension of the patent.' 'And the Secretary of State, the Commissioner of the Patent-office, and the Solicitor of the Treasury shall constitute a board to hear and decide upon the evidence produced before them both for and against the extension, and shall sit for that purpose at the time and place designated in the published notice thereof. The patentee shall furnish to said board a statement in writing, under oath, of the ascertained value of the invention, and of his receipts and expenditures, sufficiently in detail to exhibit a true and faithful account of loss and profit in any manner accruing to him from and by reason of said invention. And if, upon a hearing of the matter, it shall appear to the full and entire satisfaction of the said board, having due regard to the public interest therein, that it is just and proper that the term of the patent should be extended by reason of the patentee, without neglect or fault on his part, having failed to obtain, from the use and sale of his invention, a reasonable remuneration for the time, ingenuity, and expense bestowed upon the same, and the introduction thereof into use, it shall be the duty of the Commissioner to renew and extend the patent,' &c.; 'and thereupon the said patent shall have the same effect in law as though it had been originally granted for the term of twenty-one years. And the benefit of such renewal shall extend to assignees and grantees of the right to use the thing patented, to the extent of their respective interest therein.'

This section embraces patents previously issued, and the construction now to be given to it operates on all cases of extensions under it, whether the assignments were made before or after the passage of the act.

The object of this section is so clearly expressed as not to admit of doubt. It was for the exclusive benefit of the patentee; for the extension can only be granted when it shall be made to appear that the patentee, 'without neglect or fault on his part, having failed to obtain, from the use and sale of his invention, a reasonable remuneration for his time, ingenuity, and expense,' &c. This, then, being the clear intent of Congress, expressed in this section, it must have a controlling influence in the construction of other parts of the section. A statute is construed by the same rule as a written contract. The intent of law-makers, and of the persons contracting, where that intent clearly appears, must be carried into effect. Where the statute or the contract is so repugnant in its language as not to show the intent, then no effect can be given to it. If the words used be susceptible of such a construction as not only to show the intent, but to enable the court to give effect to it, it is the duty of the court so to construe it.

Bacon, on the construction of statutes, says,-'The most natural and genuine way of construing a statute is to construe one part by another part of the same statute; for this best expresseth the meaning of the makers.' And,-'If any part of a statute be obscure, it is proper to consider the other parts; for the words and meaning of one part of a statute frequently lead to the sense of another.' 'A statute ought, upon the whole, to be so construed, that, if it can be prevented, no clause, sentence, or word shall be superfluous, void, or insignificant.'

That the patentee may have his patent extended, though the assignee held the entire interest in it, is undoubted. He has only to show that he has not been reimbursed, &c., within the meaning of the section, to establish his claim for an extension. And, in such a case, if the benefit of the extension go to the assignee, he having the entire interest in the patent, how is the patentee benefited? And yet the law was enacted exclusively for his benefit. Does not such a construction defeat the object of the law? And if it does, can it be maintained? Where the assignment of the patent has been for less than the whole, the same objection lies, though the object of the law is subverted only to the extent of the assignment.

The interest of the assignee, it is supposed, is protected by the provision, that 'the benefit of such renewal shall extend to assignees and grantees of the right to use the thing patented, to the extent of their respective interest therein.' There can be no doubt that the words, 'to the extent of their respective interest therein,' refer to their right to use the thing patented; and this, it is contended, is the benefit which results to the assignee from the renewal. That this would seem to be the import of these words, disconnected from other parts of the section, is admitted; but such a construction is wholly inadmissible, when the object of the section is considered.

The patent is extended for the benefit of the patentee. This is so obvious that no one will deny it. And the above construction gives the benefit to the assignee. Here is a direct repugnancy, and there is no escape from it; for the same repugnancy exists, though in a less degree, where a part of the patent only has been assigned. Under such circumstances, we must inquire whether this repugnancy may not be avoided by giving another and a different application to the provision, of which the words may be susceptible.

The benefit of the renewal is given to the assignees; but to what extent?-to the extent of their interest in the renewal. But it is said, that this cannot be the true construction, as it renders the provision inoperative. If, by the assignment, there was an express contract that the assignee should enjoy the same interest in the renewal or extension of a patent, this would secure such interest, without the provision.

To this it may be answered, that such an assignment of a thing not in esse would, at most, only be a contract to convey the legal right. But, under the eighteenth section, the assignment after the extension becomes a legal transfer. In addition to this, the right under the extension being legal, all purchasers would be affected with notice, where the assignment had been recorded in the patent-office. This view gives effect to the section, and harmonizes its provisions. The other construction makes the parts of the section repugnant, and nullifies the whole of it. Now, which is the more reasonable view? But, in addition to this, what conceivable motive could Congress have had to give a boon to the assignee? How is he injured by the extension?

Without the extension, the assignee would only have a right, in common with all others, to use the invention. This could be of no more value to him than the worth of his machinery; for competition equally open to all cannot be estimated of any value. Under the assignment, the assignee claims a monopoly. Now, did Congress intend to give him this boon? Why should he be an object of public munificence? He laid out his money in the purchase of the patent right, because he believed it would be profitable. And, in most cases, the assignee speculates upon the poverty of the inventer. Inventers are proverbially poor and dependent. The history of this patent illustrates strongly this fact. Half of the right was originally assigned to pay the expense and trouble of taking out the patent. Another part of the patent was assigned to compromise a pretended claim to a similar invention.

The hardship complained of by the assignee is more imaginary than real. If the patentee takes all the benefit of the extension, the assignee loses, it is said, the value of his machinery. This does not necessarily follow. For if the machinery has been judiciously selected, and put in operation at a proper place, it will sell for its value generally, if not always. If the invention be of great value, as is undoubtedly the case in this instance, the machinery will be wanted by any one who may wish to continue the business, under the extended patent. So that the loss in the sale of the machinery would not be greater than would have been suffered by a sale if the patent had not been extended.

This construction, then, inflicts little or no injury on the assignee, whilst the other construction, as has been shown, defeats the object of the statute. But this inconvenience or loss to the assignee is duly considered and weighed, under the statute, as the board, in granting the extension, must have a due regard to the public interest. Notice is to be given, as far as practicable, to all persons interested against the extension of the patent, who may appear before the board and oppose it. And it was stated in the argument, that the assignees of this patent did oppose the extension of it. Little did they suppose at the time that they were resisting a boon secured to them by the above section. Whatever loss, real or imaginary, the assignee may suffer from the extension of the patent, is a loss or inconvenience which results from the general advancement of the public good, and for which society does not, and indeed cannot, make compensation. The price of property is affected by general legislation. An embargo is laid, and ships, during its continuance, are valueless. The increase or diminution of the tariff affects beneficially or injuriously the value of machinery used in manufactures. The reduction of the price of the public lands affects the price of lands generally in the new States. An act authorizing a company or individual to construct a railroad renders useless turnpike roads in its neighbourhood, and the public houses established thereon; but for these injuries no compensation is made. Indeed, it is difficult to find any great public enterprise which does not, in a greater or less degree, affect injuriously private rights. But these must yield to the general welfare of society.

All enlightened governments reward the inventer. He is justly considered a public benefactor. Many of the most splendid productions of genius, in literature and in the arts, have been conceived and elaborated in a garret or hovel. Such results not only enrich a nation, but render it illustrious. And should not their authors be cherished and rewarded?

If the assignee under the eighteenth section take any thing, in my judgment he takes the whole extent of his interest,-the whole or nothing. And it appears to me the construction given by the court is, if possible, less warranted by the section, than to hold that the assignee takes under the extension the entire interest assigned.

The words, 'and the benefit of such renewal shall extend to assignees and grantees of the right to use the thing patented, to the extent of their respective interest therein,' cannot, it seems to me, by any known rule of construction, be held to give to the assignee or grantee the right to use the machine he may have had in operation at the time the extension took effect. The words, 'to use the thing patented,' are descriptive of the right assigned or granted, and refer to such right, not to the mere use of the machine. 'The extent of their respective interest therein' undoubtedly covers the whole interest, and cannot refer merely to the number of machines the individual may have in operation.

Mr. Justice WAYNE expressed his dissent from that part of the opinion of the court which, in answer to the second question, gave a right to an assignee to continue the use of the patented machine, and said he would probably file his reasons with the clerk.

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).