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U.S. Supreme Court

Excelsior Wooden Pipe Co. v. Pacific Bridge Co., 185 U.S. 282 (1902)

Excelsior Wooden Pipe Company v. Pacific Bridge Company

No. 376

Submitted February 3, 1902

Decided May 6, 1902

185 U.S. 282


Where the decree of a Circuit Court and the order allowing an appeal both state that the bill was dismissed for want of jurisdiction, no separate certificate is necessary, and the appeal may be taken at any time within two years.

If a bill be brought to enforce or set aside a contract, though such contract be connected with a patent, it is not a suit under the patent laws, and the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court can only be maintained upon the ground of diversity of citizenship.

Although the bill be an ordinary bill for the infringement of a patent, of which the circuit court would have jurisdiction, if the answer show that it is really a suit upon a contract, the court should dismiss the bill.

Where a bill is filed by a licensee (the license being set up merely to show the title of the plaintiff to the patent) against the patentee and another party to whom the patentee has granted a conflicting license, the jurisdiction of the court is not ousted by reason of allegations in the answer that the plaintiff had forfeited all his rights under the license by failure to comply with its terms and conditions, by reason of which the license had been revoked by the patentee.

This was a bill in equity filed by the Excelsior Wooden Pipe Company, a California corporation, against the Pacific Bridge Company, also a California corporation, but having a branch in the City of Seattle, Washington, and Charles P. Allen, for the infringement of a patent issued to Allen, one of the defendants, for a wooden pipe.

Beside the usual allegations of a bill for the infringement of a patent, the plaintiff averred that, prior to the acts charged against the respondents, the said Charles P. Allen, one of the defendants, had granted, December 20, 1892, unto the Excelsior Redwood Company, a California corporation, the exclusive right within the Pacific states of manufacturing and selling wooden pipe under his patent to the full end of its term; that the Excelsior chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 185 U. S. 283

Redwood Company had, with the written consent of Allen, the patentee, on December 22, 1892, transferred unto the Excelsior Wooden Pipe Company, plaintiff, the said exclusive license to it, from Allen, with all rights and privileges thereunder, and that Allen had been, and still was, the exclusive owner of the patent, and the plaintiff the sole and exclusive licensee; that the plaintiff has ever since and still is engaged in the manufacture and sale of the patented articles, and has filled all orders therefor, and is well known as the exclusive licensee, and that Allen has joined with the plaintiff in suits against infringers of his patent, all of which have resulted in his favor. The gravamen of the bill lies in the allegation that, notwithstanding all this, the defendant, the Pacific Bridge Company, and the said Allen, have, since such license, conspired to make and sell, and without the license and consent of your orator, exclusive licensee as aforesaid, have made and sold, within one year last past, within the State of Washington, wooden pipe substantially the same as that described in the patent and embodying the invention, and therefore it brought this bill to recover damages for this infringement and for an injunction.

The answer, which was a joint one of both defendants, admitted the issue and validity of the patent and its ownership by defendant Allen. It also admitted a license by defendant Allen to plaintiff's assignor, whereby the latter obtained the exclusive right to make and sell the patented articles in the territory described, and set out the license in full; but it denied that this license was a subsisting one, and alleged an abandonment of the same by the plaintiff, a forfeiture of all rights thereunder by failure and refusal to comply with its terms and conditions, and by acts of bad faith toward the patentee by seeking to defeat the patent and destroy its monopoly, and a revocation of the license by Allen for cause in pursuance of the terms of the contract. It also set up that, after the alleged revocation of the license the defendant Allen granted a license to his joint defendant, the Pacific Bridge Company. In short, the only defense was a denial of the license which lies at the basis of plaintiff's suit, and constitutes its title to the patent.

The usual replication was filed, and, pending an application chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 185 U. S. 284

on the part of defendants for an extension of time to take proofs, the plaintiff, apparently at the suggestion of the court, moved for a decree in its favor upon the pleadings and affidavits on file. Upon argument, which was upon the question of jurisdiction alone, the court held that the suit was not one arising under the patent laws, but solely out of a contract; that the court had no jurisdiction, and a decree was entered to that effect. Plaintiff thereupon appealed to the circuit court of appeals, which dismissed the case upon the ground that it had no jurisdiction itself over the appeal, and that, as such appeal was prosecuted from an order dismissing the bill solely for want of jurisdiction, it should have been taken to this Court. 109 F.4d 7. Whereupon the mandate of the circuit court of appeals being filed in the circuit court, an appeal from the final decree of that court, which had been entered November 5, 1900, was taken to this Court.

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