Talk:U.S. v. Univis Lens Co., 316 U.S. 241 (1942)

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Maura

The court thought that without the granted license the final step in finishing the lens would infringe the patent and concluded that for this reason the Corporation could condition its licenses upon the maintenance by the licensee of the prescribed retail price. See United States v. General Electric Co., 272 U.S. 476, 47 S.Ct. 192, 71 L.Ed. 362. But it held that the prescription retailer licenses are unlawful because their restrictions upon the resale of the finished product are not within the patent monopoly and are proscribed by the Sherman Act.

The court accordingly limited the relief which it granted to an injunction restraining respondents from carrying out or enforcing the restrictive provisions of the prescription retailer licenses and the fair trade agreements, and from using its licensing system—as has been done in one instance—as the means of preventing a particular competitor from manufacturing and distributing multifocal lens blank similar in appearance to those produced by the Lens Company.

An incident to the purchase of any article, whether patented or unpatented, is the right to use and sell it, and upon familiar principles the authorized sale of an article which is capable of use only in practicing the patent is a relinquishment of the patent monopoly with respect to the article sold. Leitch Mfg. Co. v. Barber Co., 302 U.S. 458, 460, 461, 58 S.Ct. 288, 289, 82 L.Ed. 371; B. B. Chemical Co. v. Ellis, 314 U.S. 495, 62 S.Ct. 406, 86 L.Ed. —-. Sale of a lens blank by the patentee or by his licensee is thus in itself both a complete transfer of ownership of the blank, which is within the protection of the patent law, and a license to practice the final stage of the patent procedure. In the present case the entire consideration and compensation for both is the purchase price paid by the finishing licensee to the Lens Company. We have no question here of what other stipulations, for royalties or otherwise, might have been exacted as a part of the entire transaction, which do not seek to control the disposition of the patented article after the sale. The question is whether the patentee or his licensee, no longer aided by the patent, may lawfully exercise such control.

The declared purpose of the patent law is to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by granting to the inventor a limited monopoly, the exercise of which will enable him to secure the financial rewards for his invention. Constitution of the United States, Art. I, § 8, Cl. 8; 35 U.S.C. §§ 31, 40, 35 U.S.C.A. §§ 31, 40. The full extent of the monopoly is the patentee's 'exclusive right to make use, and vend the invention or discovery'. The patentee may surrender his monopoly in whole by the sale of his patent or in part by the sale of an artile embodying the invention. His monopoly remains so long as he retains the ownership of the patented article. But sale of it exhausts the monopoly in that article and the patentee may not thereafter, by virtue of his patent, control the use or disposition of the article. Bloomer v. McQuewan, 14 How. 539, 549, 550, 14 L.Ed. 532; Adams v. Burke, 17 Wall. 453, 21 L.Ed. 700; Hobbie v. Jennison, 149 U.S. 355, 13 S.Ct. 879, 37 L.Ed. 766. Hence the patentee cannot control the resale price of patented articles which he has sold, either by resort to an infringement suit, or, consistently with the Sherman Act (unless the Miller-Tydings Act applies), by stipulating for price maintenance by his vendees.

We think that all the considerations which support these results lead to the conclusion that where one has sold an uncompleted article which, because it embodies essential features of his patented invention, is within the protection of his patent, and has destined the article to be finished by the purchaser in conformity to the patent, he has sold his invention so far as it is or may be embodied in that particular article. The reward he was demanded and received is for the article and the invention which it embodies and which his vendee is to practice upon it. He has thus parted with his right to assert the patent monopoly with respect to it and is no longer free to control the price at which it may be sold either in its unfinished or finished form.

The first vending of any article manufactured under a patent puts the article beyond the reach of the monopoly which that patent confers. Whether the licensee sells the patented article in its completed form or sells it before completion for the purpose of enabling the buyer to finish and sell it, he has equally parted with the article, and made it the vehicle for transferring to the buyer ownership of the invention with respect to that article. To that extent he has parted with his patent monopoly in either case, and has received in the purchase price every benefit of that monopoly which the patent law secures to him. If he were permitted to control the price at which it could be sold by others he would extend his monopoly quite as much in the one case as in the other, and he would extend it beyond the fair meaning of the patent statutes and the construction which has hitherto been given to them.

The Miller-Tydings Act provides that nothing in the Sherman Act 'shall render illegal, contracts or agreements prescribing minimum prices for the resale of a commodity which bears, or the label or container of which bears, the trade mark, brand, or name of the producer or distributor of such commodity and which is in free and open competition with commodities of the same general class produced or distributed by others * * *.' whenever such agreements are lawful where the resale is made.

Affirmed in part, and reversed in part and remanded with directions.

Courtney

We think that all the considerations which support these results lead to the conclusion that where one has sold an uncompleted article which, because it embodies essential features of his patented invention, is within the protection of his patent, and has destined the article to be finished by the purchaser in conformity to the patent, he has sold his invention so far as it is or may be embodied in that particular article. The reward he was demanded and received is for the article and the invention which it embodies and which his vendee is to practice upon it. He has thus parted with his right to assert the patent monopoly with respect to it and is no longer free to control the price at which it may be sold either in its unfinished or finished form. No one would doubt that if the patentee's licensee had sold the blanks to a wholesaler or finishing retailer, without more, the purchaser would not infringe by grinding and selling them. The added stipulation by the patentee fixing resale prices derives no support from the patent and must stand on the same footing under the Sherman Act as like stipulations with respect to unpatented commodities. Ethyl Gasoline Corp. v. United States, supra.

The first vending of any article manufactured under a patent puts the article beyond the reach of the monopoly which that patent confers. Whether the licensee sells the patented article in its completed form or sells it before completion for the purpose of enabling the buyer to finish and sell it, he has equally parted with the article, and made it the vehicle for transferring to the buyer ownership of the invention with respect to that article. To that extent he has parted with his patent monopoly in either case, and has received in the purchase price every benefit of that monopoly which the patent law secures to him. If he were permitted to control the price at which it could be sold by others he would extend his monopoly quite as much in the one case as in the other, and he would extend it beyond the fair meaning of the patent statutes and the construction which has hitherto been given to them.

The price fixing features of appellees' licensing system, which are not within the protection of the patent law, violate the Sherman Act save only as the fair trade agreements may bring them within the Miller-Tydings Act. Agreements for price maintenance of articles moving in interstate commerce are, without more, unreasonable restraints within the meaning of the Sherman Act because they eliminate competition, United States v. Trenton Potteries, 273 U.S. 392, 47 S.Ct. 377, 71 L.Ed. 700, 50 A.L.R. 989; United States v. Socony Vacuum, 310 U.S. 150, 60 S.Ct. 811, 84 L.Ed. 1129, and restrictions imposed by the seller upon resale prices of articles moving in interstate commerce were, until the enactment of the Miller-Tydings Act, 50 Stat. 693, 15 U.S.C.A. s 1 consistently held to be violations of the Sherman Act. Ethyl Gasoline Co. v. United States, supra, 309 U.S., page 457, 60 S.Ct. page 625, 84 L.Ed. 852, and cases cited.

In the contracts the Lens Company is designated as the manufacturer of ‘eye glass lenses' which are distributed and sold under the trade-mark of the manufacturer. But the Lens Company manufactures the blanks and not the finished lenses to which the resale prices apply. It is therefore not the manufacturer of the ‘commodity’ which the licensees sell, and the licensees are not engaged in the ‘resale’ of the same commodity they buy. We find nothing in the language of the Miller-Tydings Act, or in its legislative history to indicate that its provisions were to be so applied to products manufactured in successive stages by different processors that the first would be free to control the price of his successors. The prescribed prices are thus not within the Miller-Tydings exception to the Sherman Act.

Appellees stress the features of their licensing system by which it is said they protect the public interest and their own good will by the selection as licensees of those who are specially skilled and competent to render the service which they undertake. But if we assume that such restrictions might otherwise be valid, cf. Fashion Guild v. Trade Commission, 312 U.S. 457, 467, 668, 61 S.Ct. 703, 707, 85 L.Ed. 949, these features are so interwoven with and identified with the price restrictions which are the core of the licensing system that the case is an appropriate one for the suppression of the entire licensing scheme even though some of its features, independently established, might have been ued for lawful purposes. Ethyl Gasoline Corp. v. United States, supra, 309 U.S. page 461, 60 S.Ct. page 627, 84 L.Ed. 852. The injunction of the district court will therefore be continued, and extended so as to suppress all the license contracts and the maintenance of the licensing system which appellees have established, other than the Corporation's license to the Lens Company. The judgment in No. 856 is affirmed. The judgment in No. 855 is reversed, and both cases are remanded to the district court for the entry of an appropriate decree in conformity to this opinion.