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LEITCH MANUFACTURING CO. v. BARBER COMPANY

decided: January 3, 1938.

LEITCH MANUFACTURING CO
v.
BARBER COMPANY



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.

Hughes, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Black; Cardozo took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Brandeis

[ 302 U.S. Page 459]

 MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question for decision is whether the owner of a process patent may by suit for contributory infringement suppress competition in the sale of unpatented material to be used in practicing the process.

The Barber Company brought, in the federal court for New Jersey, against the Leitch Manufacturing Company,*fn1 this suit to enjoin the alleged contributory infringement

[ 302 U.S. Page 460]

     of patent No. 1,684,671, dated September 18, 1928, by selling and delivering bituminous emulsion to a road builder, knowing that it was to be used in Newark in accordance with the method defined in the claims of the patent. Besides denying the validity of the patent, this further defense was interposed. It was insisted that the suit could not be maintained, even if the patent were valid, because to do so would give a limited monopoly of an unpatented staple article of commerce. The following facts were proved or admitted.

The Barber Company and Leitch Manufacturing Company are competing manufacturers of bituminous emulsion -- an unpatented staple article of commerce produced in the United States by many concerns and in common use by their customers for many purposes. By builders of macadam roads the emulsion has long been used as a coating for crushed stone and otherwise. With builders of cement concrete roads it has recently come into use for a film on the surface of the roadway to retard evaporation during curing. For the method of so retarding evaporation The Barber Company acquired the process patent sued on, and seeks to use it to secure a limited monopoly in the business of producing and selling the bituminous material for practicing and carrying out the patented method. The company does not itself engage in road building, or compete with road contractors. It does not seek to make road builders pay a royalty for employing the patented method. It does not grant to road builders a written license to use the process.*fn2 But it adopts a method of doing the business which is the practical

[ 302 U.S. Page 461]

     equivalent of granting a written license with a condition that the patented method may be practiced only with emulsion purchased from it. For any road builder can buy emulsion from it for that purpose, and whenever such a sale is made, the law implies authority to practice the invention. On the other hand The Barber Company sues as contributory infringer a competing manufacturer of this unpatented material who sells it to a road builder for such use. Thus, the sole purpose to which the patent is put is thereby to suppress competition in the production and sale of staple unpatented material for this use in road building.

The District Court discussed, but found it unnecessary to pass upon, this defense, as it dismissed the bill on the ground that the patent was void. 14 F.Supp. 212. The Court of Appeals sustained the validity of the patent; concluded that there was contributory infringement; held that maintenance of the suit was not forbidden by the rule declared in Carbice Corporation v. American Patents Development Corp., 283 U.S. 27; and directed that the District Court enter a decree adjudging the claims in issue valid and infringed, and awarding an accounting. 89 F.2d 960. One judge dissented on the ground that the decree dismissing the bill should have been affirmed under the rule declared in the Carbice case. A petition for certiorari limited to that question was applied for and granted.

That the patent did not confer upon The Barber Company the right to be free from competition in supplying unpatented material to be used in practicing the invention was settled by the rule declared in the Carbice case. That suit was likewise one to enjoin an alleged contributory infringer. The subject of the patent was a refrigerating transportation package in which the refrigerant to ...


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