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McCreary v. Pennsylvania Canal Co., 141 U.S. 459 (1891)

McCreary v. Pennsylvania Canal Company

No. 54

Submitted October 22, 1891

Decided November 9, 1891

141 U.S. 459


In estimating, in a suit for the infringement of letters patent, the profits which the defendant has made by the use of the plaintiff's device, where such device is a mere improvement upon what was known before and was open to the defendant to use, the plaintiff is limited to such profits as have arisen from the use of the improvement over what the defendant might have made by the use of that or other devices without such improvement.

An inventor took out letters patent for an invention intended to accomplish a certain result. Subsequently he took out a second patent, covering the invention protected by the first, and accomplishing the same result by a further improvement. While holding both patents, he sued to recover damages for the infringement of the second, without claiming to recover damages for the infringement of the first. Held that he could recover only for the injuries resulting from use of the further improvement covered by the second letters, and that if no such injury were shown, the defendant would be entitled to judgment.

This was a bill in equity for the infringement of letters patent No. 129,844, issued July 23, 1872, and reissued as No. 5,630, October 28, 1873, to the appellant, John McCreary, for an "improvement in coupling and steering apparatus." In the specification of the reissue the patentee stated that his invention related "to certain improvements in devices for steering canal boats," etc., described in letters patent granted to Elijah and John McCreary, April 16, 1872, No. 125,684, by means of which two boats are coupled together, and navigated and steered as one boat by means of a single steering wheel. The invention described in said letters patent consisted principally

"in coupling two boats together by means of a chain or rope passing around a steering wheel on one boat, and around a system of sheaves or pulleys, and attached to the other boat, for the purposes of steering said boats as well as of coupling them, and in centering said boats together and forming

Page 141 U. S. 460

a universal joint between them by means of an overhanging guard or bumper on the stern of the forward boat, with a central notch therein, into which the projecting stem or cut-water of the rear boat fitted. . . . My improvements,"

says the patentee,

"consist first in coupling and centering said boats together and forming a universal joint between them by means of a chain, the two ends of which are fastened to opposite points on the stern of the forward boat, and the central part to the stem or cut-water or some central point on the bow of the rear boat, so as to hold its stem or cut-water against the overhanging guard or bumper of said forward boat, said chain serving to center the boats without the necessity of any notch in the overhanging guard for the stem of the rear boat to fit into, and at the same time coupling and holding the boats together and forming a universal joint between them; second, in attaching the ends of the coupling and steering chains to the boats by means of crow-foot claw-hooks, so as to render the chains easily adjustable, as hereinafter shown and described."

He claimed as his invention:

"1. The combination of the two boats, A and B, the steering chain, a, passing around sheaves or pulleys, and around the windlass, C, or its equivalent, the overhanging guard or bumper on the stern of the forward boat, and the chain, D, attached to opposite points on the stern of said boat and to the stem or central part of the bow of the rear boat, so as to form a universal joint between them, and keep them coupled and centered, substantially as shown and described."

"2. In combination with the boats, A and B, and the coupling and steering mechanism herein described, the claw hooks, h h, for attaching and adjusting the coupling and steering chains, substantially as set forth."

Upon the hearing in the circuit court, an interlocutory decree was entered in favor of the plaintiff finding the validity of the patent and the infringement by the defendant and ordering a reference to a master for an account of the "profits, gains, and advantages which the said defendant has received or made, or which have arisen or accrued to it," from the said infringement, etc., but denying the injunction upon the ground, stated

Page 141 U. S. 461

in the opinion of the court, 5 F. 367, that its allowance would cause much greater injury to the defendant than benefit to the plaintiff. A large amount of testimony was taken before the master, who reported that he found no proven profits, savings, or advantages to have been received by or accrued to defendant from the manufacture, use, or sale of the plaintiff's patented improvements. Exceptions were filed to this report, and upon the hearing of such exceptions a final decree was entered in accordance with the report, and that the plaintiff should recover his costs, except the costs of the accounting before the master, and the costs of the exceptions to the master's report, which were awarded to the defendant. The decree was subsequently amended by ordering that the defendant pay all the costs of the suit. From the decree denying the recovery of profits and damages an appeal was taken to this Court.

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