[Syllabus from pages 205-207 intentionally omitted]
APPEAL from the Circuit Court for the Northern District of New York; the case being thus:
On the 5th of April, 1853, Dennis Littlefield, of New York, being at the time the patentee under a patent issued April 15th, 1851, for 'a coal-burner so constructed as to produce combustion of the inflammable gases of anthracite coals,' and having then on file in the Patent Office an application, dated December 30th, 1852, for a patent securing to him a stove arranged and operating 'for the purpose of economizing and burning the gases generated during the combustion of anthracite and other coals'–and the applicant stating that it was his purpose to apply it 'to furnaces for heating buildings, to cooking-stoves or ranges, to the furnaces of locomotives, or in any other situation where it is an object to economize waste gases or to consume smoke'–entered, as a party of the first part, into an agreement–evidenced by two separate documents, the first styled in some of the pleadings in the case, 'a grant,' and the second 'a supplementary agreement'–with the firm of Treadwell & Perry (to whom he then owed the sum of $1500) as a party of the second part, concerning the subjects, &c., embraced in the patent. The 'grant' was thus:
'Whereas letters-patent have been granted to and are now held by the said party of the first part, for a coal-burner so constructed as to produce combustion of the inflammable gases of anthracite coal, which letters bear date the 15th of April, 1851. And whereas, the said party of the first part has made application to the Patent Office for letters-patent, securing to him a certain improvement in the invention so as aforesaid patented by him, and said application is now pending; therefore, the said party of the first part, in consideration of one dollar to him in hand paid by said parties of the second part, and of the agreements herein contained on the part of said parties of the second part, and of the agreements contained in a certain agreement this day executed between the parties hereto, and bearing even date herewith, hath and by these presents doth assign and transfer to the said parties of the second part, their executors, administrators, and assigns, all the right, title, and interest which the said party of the first part now has, or can or may hereafter have in or to the aforesaid inventions, improvement, and patent, or the patent or patents that may be granted for said inventions, or any improvements therein, and on any extension or extensions thereof within and throughout the territory embraced within the States of New York and Connecticut, for and during the term for which the aforesaid letters-patent were granted, and the terms for which any patent for the aforesaid improvement, and any other improvement or improvements thereof, or extensions for or of either thereof, may be granted. And the said party of the first part doth hereby, for himself, his heirs, executors, and administrators, guaranty to the said parties of the second part the full and uninterrupted enjoyment of the use and right to use, to make, construct, and to vend to others to use, the inventions, improvements, and patents aforesaid, during the terms aforesaid, as against all other persons whomsoever within the territory aforesaid.
'And the said parties of the second part hereby agree to pay unto the said party of the first part, for the right and interest hereby assigned and conveyed, provided, and as long as said party of the first part shall well and faithfully keep and perform all the agreements herein, and in the aforesaid agreement this day executed, between the parties hereto, the sum of fifty cents on each and every stove or coal-burner embracing said inventions and improvements hereby assigned, which shall be sold by said parties of the second part, after they shall have sold fifteen hundred of said stoves or coal-burners; such payments to be made at the times and in the manner particularly specified in the aforesaid agreement this day executed between the parties hereto.
'It is expressly understood and agreed between the said parties, that in case said party of the first part shall well and faithfully keep and perform all the agreements herein and in the aforesaid agreement, bearing even date herewith, contained, on his part, and the said parties of the second part, their executors, administrators, and assigns, shall without just cause refuse, or shall neglect to make and sell said coal-burners to such extent as the demand therefor shall reasonably warrant and require, after reasonable notice shall be given to them by said party of the first part, requiring them so to make and sell the same, that this assignment and transfer shall thereafter be void and of no effect, and all the rights and interests herein and hereby conveyed shall thereupon revert to the said party of the first part, his executors, administrators, and assigns.'
The 'supplementary agreement,' dated like the other, on the 5th of April, 1853, and like the other, with Little-field, the patentee, for a party of the first part, and Treadwell & Perry, the assignees, party of the second part, was thus:
'Whereas, the said party of the first part hath agreed to sell, assign and transfer unto said parties of the second part, all the right, title, and interest which said party of the first part now has, or can or may hereafter have, in or to certain letters-patent of the United States, granted to him on the 15th of April, 1851, and the invention thereby patented, and to a certain improvement thereon, an application for a patent for which is now pending, and to any and all extensions thereof, within the States of New York and Connecticut, upon certain conditions and stipulations. And whereas said party of the first part is now indebted to the said parties of the second part in about the sum of $1500, and it is understood and agreed between the parties hereto that the premium of fifty cents upon each stove embracing said invention and improvements of said party of the first part which shall be sold by said parties of the second part, shall be retained by them until they have sold fifteen hundred of said stoves, and applied upon the aforesaid indebtedness of said party of the first part to them. Now, in consideration of the premises, the said parties to this agreement hereby mutually agree to and with each other as follows, to wit:
'The said party of the first part hereby agrees––
'1. That in case any suit or proceeding shall be commenced against the said parties of the second part, or any persons holding under them, affecting the validity of said letters-patent, or either of them, or for violating any previous patent by the use and enjoyment of the rights, interests, and privileges conveyed to said parties of the second part, by an assignment this day made to them by said party of the first part, or any alleged infringement of any other patent, he will . . . assume and conduct at his own cost the defence against all such suits and proceedings, and keep and save entirely harmless and indemnified the said parties of the second part, their executors, administrators, and assigns, of and from all damages, costs, and expenses on account of the same; and further, that he will, whenever required by said parties of the second part or their assigns, sue any and all persons who shall infringe or violate, within the States of New York or Connecticut the said patent, or any patent or patents which may hereafter be obtained in respect to the subject-matter thereof, or of either of the same, in his own name or otherwise, but at his own cost or charge, and shall conduct the same for the use and benefit of said parties of the second part, their executors, administrators, and assigns; and he further agrees that in case the said letters-patent already granted, or any patents which may hereafter be obtained by him as aforesaid for the subject-matter thereof, shall be adjudged invalid, so as to deprive the said parties of the second part of the use and enjoyment of the rights and interests conveyed by the aforesaid assignment, that the agreements therein and herein contained on the part of said parties of the second part shall thereupon become void and of no further effect as against them or their assigns.
'2. That he will furnish to the said parties of the second part, before the first day of August next, at the cost price thereof, at the furnace of said parties of the second part, undressed castiron patterns for four several sizes of the coal-burner, patented in and by the aforesaid letters-patent, and embracing all the improvements therein for which letters-patent shall then have been secured, suitable to mould and cast from, and that he also will furnish at the place and price aforesaid, within a reasonable time after letters-patent have been secured by him therefor, undressed cast-iron patterns of the several sizes of all improvements upon said coal-burners which shall be made or invented by him.
'3. That he will pay the balance of the said indebtedness to said parties of the second part, over and above the said sum of $750, in monthly instalments, from this date, of not less than $100.
'The said parties of the second part hereby agree––
'1. That so long as the said party of the first part shall well and faithfully keep and perform all the agreements herein, and in said assignment bearing even date herewith, contained on his part, the premium of fifty cents upon each stove or coal-burner embracing the aforesaid inventions and improvements, which shall be sold by them, shall be retained and applied by them toward the payment of the said indebtedness of said party of the first part to them, to the extent and amount of $750, and that after such amount shall have been thus paid they will pay to said party of the first part, his executors, administrators, or assigns, the premium or sum of fifty cents on each and every of said stoves or coal-burners which shall thereafter be sold by them; that they will keep a true account of all sales of said stoves or burners, which shall be open to the examination of the said party of the first part, and that a settlement of and for the premiums on said sales shall be made by them with said party of the first part, on the first day of April in each and every year hereafter.
'2. That they will also pay, in the manner and at the times aforesaid, the sum or premium of fifty cents upon every stove or burner, furnace, range, oven, or heater, of whatever kind or description that they may originate or construct upon the principle of the coal-burner, so patented as aforesaid, by said party of the first part, after patterns of their own design or contrivance, it being, however, hereby expressly understood and agreed by said parties of the second part, that nothing herein or in said assignment contained shall give to them the right to use or apply the principle of said coal-burner to furnaces that are used or erected in the cellars or basements of houses, for the purpose of heating several rooms or larger part of a dwelling-house, the same being intended to be reserved by said party of the first part.
'3. That they will, in case the said party of the first part shall well and truly keep and perform all the agreements on his part herein and in said assignment contained, manufacture and use all reasonable efforts to sell so many of said stoves or burners as the demand therefor will reasonably warrant and require; and that in case they or their assigns shall, without just cause, refuse, or after reasonable notice from said party of the first part, shall neglect to manufacture or sell said stoves or burners to such extent as aforesaid, then that the aforesaid assignment shall become inoperative and void, and this agreement shall cease and be of no further effect. But in that event, it is expressly understood and agreed that in case the said indebtedness of said party of the first part shall not then have been fully paid or satisfied to said parties of the second part, the same shall thereupon be at once due and payable, and that the payment thereof may be required by them from said party of the first part; provided, however, that such refusal or neglect shall occur for the reason that said stoves or burners cannot be sold by said parties of the second part on account of some practical defect in the principle thereof.'
The first of these two agreements, the grant, was duly recorded in the Patent Office, April 11th, 1853. The second, or supplementary agreement, was never recorded.
The application of Littlefield, dated December 30th, 1852, for an improvement in his first invention, and mentioned in the two documents, was rejected by the Patent Office, and on the 23d July, 1853, withdrawn by him.
On the same day that he thus withdrew it he filed a second application, it being for 'a new and useful improvement in stoves,' so devised as 'to burn the gaseous or more inflammable elements of the coal in contact with its more refractory portions, and thus secure a complete combustion of them both.'
The specification of this application, like that of the application rejected and withdrawn, stated that the patentee did not purpose to limit it to stoves for heating purposes alone, but to employ it wherever it could be advantageously applied, particularly to house furnaces, cooking-ranges, steamboat boilers, and stoves.
Upon this application a patent was issued, January 20th, 1854. On the 27th June, 1861, a patent for an improvement on this patent of 1854 was granted; and on the 9th November, of the same year, a reissue. Numerous other patents outstanding, and the subject of this controversy, were admitted to be reissues of this patent of 1854 or of patents for improvements upon it.
In this state of things, Treadwell & Perry, on the 25th of March, 1862, assigned all their interest to a certain George W. Sterling. He becoming dissatisfied with his purchase, the sale, by agreement, was cancelled, and he executed, June 2d, 1862, a reassignment to Treadwell & Perry. Intermediately, however, that is to say, on the 7th April, 1862, Treadwell & Perry had executed an assignment without any warranty of ownership to one Dickey. Both the reassignment from Sterling and the assignment to Dickey were left at the Patent Office for record on the 26th of June, 1862, and on the 2d July Dickey assigned all his interest to Mrs. Mary J. Perry, wife of John S. Perry; the Perry of the firm of Treadwell & Perry.
Littlefield having entered into partnership with one Jagger, and they two being engaged in making, within the States of New York and Connecticut, stoves under the patents of 15th April, 1851, 20th January, 1854, and June 27th, 1861, and under the patents for improvements on the inventions therein patented, and under the reissues of these several patents, Mrs. Perry, on the 27th of August, 1862,–alleging that the invention secured by the patent of April 15th, 1851, was regarded by Littlefield 'only as a germ from which a more valuable construction was to arise,' and that with a view of enhancing its value and utility he had proceeded soon afterwards with various experiments for improving the inventions secured by that patent, and that the subsequent patents and reissues were but for improvements on the original one, which subsequent improvements, with the original one, had passed to Treadwell & Perry by the 'grant,'–filed a bill in the court below against Littlefield & Jagger for injunction and account. Other improvements were patented, and reissues made pending the suit. Mrs. Perry having died during the suit, her husband, who was trustee under her will, was substituted as complainant. All the parties–complainant and defendants alike–were citizens of the State of New York. A supplemental bill filed after the date of reissues claimed the profits under them.
The assignment above mentioned of April 7th, 1862, to Dickey, was executed by Perry. Treadwell, in testimony, swore, more than once, that he assented to it.
For the benefit of the reader who may not recall the exact words of the Patent Acts, and the exact construction given to them, it may ...