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KEYSTONE MFG. CO. V. ADAMS, 151 U. S. 139 (1894)

U.S. Supreme Court

Keystone Mfg. Co. v. Adams, 151 U.S. 139 (1894)

Keystone Manufacturing Company v. Adams

No. 156

Argued December 8, 11, 1893

Decided January 8, 1894

151 U.S. 139


The invention patented to Henry A. Adams by letters patent No. 132, 128, dated October lo, 1872, for a new and useful improvement in cornshellers, is a substantial and meritorious one, well worthy of a patent, and is infringed by machines manufactured under sundry letters patent granted to Harvey Packer.

When, in a class of machines widely used, it is made to appear that, after repeated and futile attempts, a machine has been contrived which accomplishes the result desired, and a patent is granted to the inventor, the courts will not adopt a narrow construction fatal to the grant.

While it is undoubtedly established law that complainants in patent cases may give evidence tending to show the profits realized by defendants from use of the patented devices, and thus enable the courts to assess the amounts which the complainants are entitled to recover, yet it is also true that great difficulty has always been found, in the adjudicated cases, in applying the rule that the profits of the defendant afford a standard whereby to estimate the amount which the plaintiff is entitled to recover and in defining the extent and limitations to which this rule is admittedly subject.

Such a measure of damages is of comparatively easy application where the entire machine used or sold is the result of the plaintiff's invention; but when, as in the present case, the patented invention is but one feature in a machine embracing other devices that contribute to the profits made by the defendant, serious difficulties arise.

The record shows that the complainant did not seek to recover a license fee, nor did he offer any evidence from which his damages could be computed. He relied entirely on the proposition that the amount which he was entitled to recover could be based on the profits realized by the defendant from the sale of the patented invention, and the amount of such profits he claimed to have shown by evidence tending to show what certain third companies were alleged to have made from the sale of similar devices in similar cornshelling machines. Held that he could recover only nominal damages.

On the 14th day of May, 1886, Henry A. Adams filed in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois a bill of complaint against the Keystone

Page 151 U. S. 140

Manufacturing Company, a corporation of the State of Illinois, and Thomas A. Galt, J. B. Patterson, George S. Tracy, and E. L. Galt, officers and managers of the said company, complaining that the defendants were infringing his rights as the patentee and owner of letters patent No. 132,128, granted on October 15, 1872, by the United States to him as the original and first inventor of a certain new and useful improvement in cornshellers. The bill contains the usual averments, and prayed for an account and an injunction. On August 2, 1886, the defendants filed a joint answer admitting that letters patent had been issued to the complainant as alleged, denying that said patent described any new or patentable invention, alleging that the said alleged invention had been anticipated in numerous other specified letters patent, and denying that the machines made and sold by the defendant company were infringements of any rights possessed by the complainant.

A replication was duly filed, evidence was taken, and argument had, the result of which was that on June 30, 1888, the court entered an interlocutory decree sustaining the validity of the patent, finding an infringement, directing an account, and appointing a master to state the same. Afterwards, on June 21, 1889, the master filed a report awarding the sum of $27,620 to the complainant, being the amount of the profits he found to have accrued to the defendants from their use of the patented machines, to which report exceptions were filed. On February 5, 1890, a final decree was entered, overruling the exceptions to the master's report, decreeing the payment by the defendant company of the sum of $27,620 and costs, and dismissing the bill for want of equity as against Thomas A. Galt, J. B. Patterson, George S. Tracy, and E. L. Galt.

From this decree, an appeal was taken to this Court.

Page 151 U. S. 142

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