« EdellinenJatka »
Opinion of the Court.
had by long practice, and with the acquiescence of the plaintiffs, acquired the right to make use of the black and gold label, it is difficult to see how the defendants could have advertised more clearly the fact that it was their own thread, or better accentuated the distinction between its own and Coats' than it did by the alleged infringing label. Of course, a person seeking to distinguish his label from that of another labors under certain disadvantages in the fact that the shape of the bead almost necessarily requires the label to be round, and the size of the spool demands that it shall be small. In the defendants' spool not only did the words “Merrick Thread Co.” clearly and distinctly appear, but the number of the thread is placed conspicuously in the margin, and the centre is ornamented with a star, which does not appear upon the plaintiffs'. As already observed, the label upon the reverse end of the spool is wholly different from that of the plaintiffs. It is clear that neither the words “Best Six Cord,” nor “200 Yds.” are capable of exclusive appropriation, as they are descriptive, and indicative only of quality and length.
The propriety of the employment of the embossed periphery depends upon somewhat different considerations.
In 1870, Hezekiah Conant, of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the manager of plaintiffs' American manufactory, took out the design patent for this embossed periphery. This patent seems to have been respected until 1877, when it expired, shortly after which the defendants introduced upon the periphery of their spool corresponding numerals, but with stars substituted for plaintiffs' loops. Defendants were guilty of no wrong to the plaintiffs in making use of corresponding designs for their own spool heads after the expiration of plaintiffs' patent. There was no attempt to imitate the peculiar chain or loop characteristic of this design; but the embossed numerals were made use of for the same purpose for which they had been originally designed, namely, to preserve the number of the thread when the label became defaced, or lost, or destroyed by the use of the spool in the sewing machine. Indeed, the idea of stamping the numeral upon the periphery of the spool does
Opinion of the Court.
not seem to have been original with Conant, but appears to have been used by the defendants as early as 1867.
However this may be, plaintiffs' right to the use of the embossed periphery expired with their patent, and the public had the same right to make use of it as if it never had been patented. Without deciding whether if the embossed periphery had contained a word which was capable of being appropriated as a trade-mark, defendants could have appropriated the same upon the expiration of their patent, it is clear that no such monopoly could be claimed of mere numerals, used descriptively, and therefore not capable of exclusive appropriation because they represent the number of the thread, and are, therefore, of value as information to the public. Amoskeag Mfg. Co. v. Trainer, 101 U. S. 51. Clearly the plaintiffs cannot, as patentees, claim a monopoly of these numerals beyond the life of the patent, and it is equally clear that, where used for the purpose of imparting information, they are not susceptible of exclusive appropriation as a trade-mark, but are the common property of all mankind. The patent being, not simply for the embossed number, but for embossing the same upon the periphery of the spool head, defendants were entitled, upon the expiration of such patent, to use them for a like purpose. Neither was there anything misleading to the public in such use of them, as the testimony is clear and uncontradicted that thread is bought and sold not by its distinctive marks, but by the name of the maker.
Plaintiffs, however, claim that, being the first to use the combination of a black and gold label with an embossed periphery, they should be protected against any such imitation by others as would mislead any ordinary purchaser of thread in small quantities. A large number of witnesses were sworn upon this subject, whose testimony tended to show that they had either purchased themselves or seen others purchase defendants' thread, supposing it to be Coats'. This testimony was not, however, wholly satisfactory, and threw but little light upon the controversy.
There is no doubt a general resemblance between the heads of all spools containing a black and gold label which might
Opinion of the Court.
induce a careless purchaser to accept one for the other. Defendants, however, were not bound to any such degree of care as would prevent this. Having, as we have already held, the right to use the black and gold label, and the periphery embossed with the number of the thread, they were only bound to take such care as the use of such devices, and the limited space in which they were used, would allow. In short, they could do little more than place their own name conspicuously upon the label, to rearrange the number by placing it in the border instead of the centre of the label, and to omit loops of the plaintiffs' periphery, and substitute their own star between the numerals. Having done this, we think they are relieved from further responsibility. If the purchaser of such thread desires a particular make he should either call for such, in which case the dealer, if he put off on him a different make, would be guilty of fraud, for which the defendants would not be responsible, or should examine himself the lettering upon the spools. He is chargeable with knowledge of the fact that any manufacturer of six-cord thread has a right to use a black and gold label, and is bound to examine such label with sufficient care to ascertain the name of the manufacturer. Indeed, the intent to imitate plaintiffs' spool heads, if any such intent existed, is manifest rather in the label than in the periphery, but plaintiffs having submitted to this without protest for twelve years, have waived their right to relief upon this ground. McLaughlin v. People's Railway Co., 21 Fed. Rep. 574; Ladd v. Cameron, 25 Fed. Rep. 37; Green v. French, 4 Bann. & Ard. 169 ; 3 Rob. on Pats. $ 1194. Having already held that defendants had a right to make use of the embossed numeral in the periphery, their union of the two devices upon the same spool head, both being originally designed to be used in conjunction, cannot be made the basis of a suit.
Upon the whole, we think the plaintiffs have failed to prove a case of unfair competition, or any illegal attempt of the defendants to impose their thread upon the public as that of the plaintiffs; that with the right to use the black and gold label as other manufacturers have and continue to use it, and with the same right to use the embossed numerals which the plain
Statement of the Case.
tiffs have, we think they have taken all the precautions which they were bound to take to prevent a fraudulent imposition of their thread upon the public, and that the decree of the court below dismissing the bill should, therefore, be
A demurrer lacking the affidavit of defendant and certificate of counsel is
fatally defective, and a decree pro confesso may be entered unless something takes place between the filing of the demurrer and the entry of the
decree to take away the right. The filing of an amended bill after a demurrer, wit ut first obtaining an
order of the court therefor, and the withdrawal of it by the complainant's solicitor in consequence, without paying to the defendant the costs occasioned thereby and furnishing him with a copy with proper refer
ences, do not take away such right. When one party contracts to erect a building for another party on land of
the latter, and a law of the State gives a mechanics' lien upon the land upon which the building stands, the parties may contract that the lien
shall extend to other adjoining land of the latter party. When the state law gives either an action at law or a remedy in equity to
enforce a mechanics' lien, proceedings in a Federal court to enforce it may be had in equity.
On May 27, 1886, the appellee, plaintiff below, made a proposition to defendant to construct on its premises a blast furnace for the sum of $124,000; $80,000 to be paid on monthly estimates as the work progressed; the balance to be secured," said security to be either a mechanics' lien or first mortgage on all the furnace company's interests in Sheffield,
at my option.” This proposition was accepted on June 2. The work was completed and accepted on April 21, 1888. On June 27, 1888, plaintiff filed in the office of the nrobate court of the proper county a statement for a
Counsel for Appellant.
mechanics' lien, in conformity with the provisions of the state statute. In this statement the furnace is stated to be situated at Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama, on a site containing about twenty acres, described as follows: “Twenty acres of land in fractional section 29,
contiguous to the city of Sheffield,” etc. On September 5, 1888, plaintiff filed his bill in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Alabama to foreclose this mechanics' lien. The bill averred that a contract was entered into for the construction of the furnace; that the amount due was $63,279.43; that a statement of lien had been filed; and prayed for foreclosure, and for general relief. In the bill the contract was not set out at length, but it was alleged that it was in writing, and would be produced at the hearing if necessary. Attached to the bill of complaint was the statement filed in the probate court. A subpoena was duly served upon the defendant on September 6. On October 1 the defendant applied for and received a copy of the bill. On October 3 it filed a paper which it called a demurrer, but which did not have the certificate of counsel or the affidavit of defendant, essential to a demurrer, as required by equity rule 31. On the rule day in November (November 5) a decree pro confesso was entered, and on December 19 a final decree was also entered, finding the amount due as claimed, the existence of a lien upon the twenty acres, and ordering a foreclosure and sale. At the final hearing the plaintiff produced the lien papers, which were filed in the office of the probate court, the contract between the parties, a certificate from the superintendent of the company defendant of compliance with the terms of the contract, and an affidavit of counsel for the plaintiff to the genuineness of these documents. At the next term, and on February 4, 1889, a motion and petition was filed by defendant in the Circuit Court to set aside the final decree, which was overruled on the 15th of February, 1889. An appeal to this court was duly perfected.
Mr. T. R. Roulhac, (with whom was Mr. Richard W. Walker on the brief,) and Mr. H. C. Tompkins for appellant.