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January 5, 1903



Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, Shiras, Jr., White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes

Author: Shiras

[ 187 U.S. Page 526]

 MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

[ 187 U.S. Page 527]

     The courts below concluded, upon the evidence, that the defendants sold a medical preparation named, marked and packed, in imitation of the complainant's medicine, for the purpose and with the design and intent of deceiving purchasers and inducing them to buy defendants' preparation instead of the complainant's. We see no reason to dissent from that conclusion, and if there were no other questions in the case, we should be ready to affirm the decree, awarding a perpetual injunction and an account of the profits and gains derived from such unfair and dishonest practices.

Another ground, however, is urged against the complainant's right to invoke the aid of a court of equity, in that the California Fig Syrup Company, the complainant, has so fraudulently represented to the public the nature of its medical preparation that it is not entitled to equitable relief.

Some courts have gone so far as to hold that courts of equity will not interfere by injunction in controversies between rival manufacturers and dealers in so-called quack medicines. Fowle v. Spear, Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Law Journal, vol. 7, p. 176; Heath v. Wright, 3 Wall. Jr. 141; Fetridge v. Wells, 4 Abb. Pr. 144.

It may be said, in support of such a view, that most, if not all, the States of this Union have enactments forbidding and making penal the practice of medicine by persons who have not gone through a course of appropriate study, and obtained a license from a board of examiners; and there is similar legislation in respect to pharmacists. And it would seem to be inconsistent, and to tend to defeat such salutary laws, if medical preparations, often and usually containing powerful and poisonous drugs, are permitted to be widely advertised and sold to all who are willing to purchase. Laws might properly be passed limiting and controlling such traffic by restraining retail dealers from selling such medical preparations, except when prescribed by regular medical practitioners.

But we think that, in the absence of such legislation, courts cannot declare dealing in such preparations to be illegal, nor the articles themselves to be not entitled, as property, to the protection to the law.

[ 187 U.S. Page 528]

     We find, however, more solidity in the contention, on behalf of the appellants, that when the owner of a trade mark applies for an injunction to restrain the defendant from injuring his property by making false representations to the public, it is essential that the plaintiff should not in his trade mark, or in his advertisements and business, be himself guilty of any false or misleading representation; that if the plaintiff makes any material false statement in connection with the property which he seeks to protect, he loses his right to claim the assistance of a court of equity; that where any symbol or label claimed as a trade mark is so constructed or worded as to make or contain a distinct assertion which is false, no property can be claimed on it, or, in other words, the right to the exclusive use of it cannot be maintained.

Among the cases cited to sustain this contention are the following:

In Connell v. Reed, 128 Massachusetts, 477, the plaintiff sought to establish the exclusive right to the words "East Indian," as applied to his remedy and the court, through Gray, C.J., said:

"The conclusive answer to this suit is . . . that the plaintiffs have adopted and used these words to denote, and to indicate to the public, that the medicines were used in the East Indies, and that the formula for them was obtained there, neither of which is the fact. Under these circumstances, to maintain this bill would be to lend the aid of the court to a scheme to defraud the public."

In Siegert v. Abbott, 61 Maryland, 276, where the subject matter of the trade mark was "Angostura Bitters," which purported to have been prepared by Dr. Siegert, at Angostura, Trinidad, and where it appeared that Dr. Siegert was dead, and had never lived at Angostura, the bill was dismissed, the court saying: "It is a general rule of law, in cases of this kind, that courts of equity will not interfere by injunction where there is any lack of truth in the plaintiff's case; that is, where there is any misrepresentation in his trade mark or labels."

In Alden v. Gross, 25 Mo. App. 123, a trade mark was claimed in the words "Fruit Vinegar," and the court said:

[ 187 U.S. Page 529]

     "The vinegar thus branded was not manufactured out of fruit, in the plain, ordinary, usual sense of that term, but out of low wines distilled from cereals, and fruit enters into its composition only to a very insignificant extent. . . . It would be a novel application of the rule governing the subject of trade marks, if one who manufactures vinegar out of cereals could appropriate for the article thus manufactured the word 'Fruit,' and thereby exclude another from using the word as descriptive of an article, which is, in point of fact, manufactured out of fruit. . . . But whether the word 'Fruit,' in this connection, is purely indicative of the character or quality of the article or not, the plaintiffs' exclusive claim to it must fail on the further ground, that the use of the word, in that connection, is clearly deceptive."

In Prince Manufacturing Company v. Prince's Metallic Paint, 135 N.Y. 24, an injunction to protect a trade mark was refused, by reason of a false representation as to the place from which the ore was obtained, ...

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