81 U.S. 511 | SCOTUS | 1872

81 U.S. 511 (1871)
14 Wall. 511


Supreme Court of United States.

*524 Messrs. C.M. Keller and C.F. Blake, for the appellants, and Messrs. G. Gifford and W.C. Witter, contra. &mdash.

Mr. Justice STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.

The sole question is one of fact. Has there been an infringement? Are the designs used by the defendant substantially the same as that owned by the complainants? To answer these questions correctly, it is indispensable to understand what constitutes identity of design, and what amounts to infringement?

The acts of Congress which authorize the grant of patents for designs were plainly intended to give encouragement to the decorative arts. They contemplate not so much utility as appearance, and that, not an abstract impression, or picture, but an aspect given to those objects mentioned in the *525 acts. It is a new and original design for a manufacture, whether of metal or other material; a new and original design for a bust, statue, bas relief, or composition in alto or basso relievo; a new or original impression or ornament to be placed on any article of manufacture; a new and original design for the printing of woolen, silk, cotton, or other fabrics; a new and useful pattern, print, or picture, to be either worked into, or on, any article of manufacture; or a new and original shape or configuration of any article of manufacture — it is one or all of these that the law has in view. And the thing invented or produced, for which a patent is given, is that which gives a peculiar or distinctive appearance to the manufacture, or article to which it may be applied, or to which it gives form. The law manifestly contemplates that giving certain new and original appearances to a manufactured article may enhance its salable value, may enlarge the demand for it, and may be a meritorious service to the public. It therefore proposes to secure for a limited time to the ingenious producer of those appearances the advantages flowing from them. Manifestly the mode in which those appearances are produced has very little, if anything, to do with giving increased salableness to the article. It is the appearance itself which attracts attention and calls out favor or dislike. It is the appearance itself, therefore, no matter by what agency caused, that constitutes mainly, if not entirely, the contribution to the public which the law deems worthy of recompense. The appearance may be the result of peculiarity of configuration, or of ornament alone, or of both conjointly, but, in whatever way produced, it is the new thing, or product, which the patent law regards. To speak of the invention as a combination or process, or to treat it as such, is to overlook its peculiarities. As the acts of Congress embrace only designs applied, or to be applied, they must refer to finished products of invention rather than to the process of finishing them, or to the agencies by which they are developed. A patent for a product is a distinct thing from a patent for the elements entering into it, or for the ingredients of which it is composed, or for the combination *526 that causes it. We do not say that in determining whether two designs are substantially the same, differences in the lines, the configuration, or the modes by which the aspects they exhibit are not to be considered; but we think the controlling consideration is the resultant effect. Such was the opinion of Lord Chancellor Hatherly in McCrea v. Holdsworth.[*] That was a suit to restrain an infringement of a design for ornamenting a woven fabric. The defence was a denial that the design used by the defendants was the same as that to which the plaintiff was entitled. The ornament on both was, in part, a star, but on one it was turned in an opposite direction from that in the other; yet the effect of the ornament was the same to the eye. The Lord Chancellor held the important inquiry was whether there was any difference in the effect of the designs, not whether there were differences in the details of ornament. "If," said he, "the designs are used in exactly the same manner, and have the same effect, or nearly the same effect, then, of course, the shifting, or turning round of a star, as in this particular case, cannot be allowed to protect the defendants from the consequences of the piracy." This seems most reasonable, for, as we have said, it is the effect upon the eye which adds value to articles of trade or commerce. So in Holdsworth v. McCrea,[†] Lord Westbury said, "Now, in the case of those things in which the merit of the invention lies in the drawing, or in forms that can be copied, the appeal is to the eye, and the eye alone is the judge of the identity of the two things. Whether, therefore, there be piracy or not is referred to an unerring judge, namely, the eye, which takes the one figure and the other figure, and ascertains whether they are or are not the same." This was said in a case where there was nothing but a drawing of the design.

We are now prepared to inquire what is the true test of identity of design. Plainly, it must be sameness of appearance, and mere difference of lines in the drawing or *527 sketch, a greater or smaller number of lines, or slight variances in configuration, if sufficient to change the effect upon the eye, will not destroy the substantial identity. An engraving which has many lines may present to the eye the same picture, and to the mind the same idea or conception as another with much fewer lines. The design, however, would be the same. So a pattern for a carpet, or a print may be made up of wreaths of flowers arranged in a particular manner. Another carpet may have similar wreaths, arranged in a like manner, so that none but very acute observers could detect a difference. Yet in the wreaths upon one there may be fewer flowers, and the wreaths may be placed at wider distances from each other. Surely in such a case the designs are alike. The same conception was in the mind of the designer, and to that conception he gave expression.

If, then, identity of appearance, or (as expressed in McCrea v. Holdsworth) sameness of effect upon the eye, is the main test of substantial identity of design, the only remaining question upon this part of the case is, whether it is essential that the appearance should be the same to the eye of an expert. The court below was of opinion that the test of a patent for a design is not the eye of an ordinary observer. The learned judge thought there could be no infringement unless there was "substantial identity" "in view of the observation of a person versed in designs in the particular trade in question — of a person engaged in the manufacture or sale of articles containing such designs — of a person accustomed to compare such designs one with another, and who sees and examines the articles containing them side by side." There must, he thought, be a comparison of the features which make up the two designs. With this we cannot concur. Such a test would destroy all the protection which the act of Congress intended to give. There never could be piracy of a patented design, for human ingenuity has never yet produced a design, in all its details, exactly like another, so like, that an expert could not distinguish them. No counterfeit bank note is so identical in appearance *528 with the true that an experienced artist cannot discern a difference. It is said an engraver distinguishes impressions made by the same plate. Experts, therefore, are not the persons to be deceived. Much less than that which would be substantial identity in their eyes would be undistinguishable in the eyes of men generally, of observers of ordinary acuteness, bringing to the examination of the article upon which the design has been placed that degree of observation which men of ordinary intelligence give. It is persons of the latter class who are the principal purchasers of the articles to which designs have given novel appearances, and if they are misled, and induced to purchase what is not the article they supposed it to be, if, for example, they are led to purchase forks or spoons, deceived by an apparent resemblance into the belief that they bear the "cottage" design, and, therefore, are the production of the holders of the Gorham, Thurber, and Dexter patent, when in fact they are not, the patentees are injured, and that advantage of a market which the patent was granted to secure is destroyed. The purpose of the law must be effected if possible; but, plainly, it cannot be if, while the general appearance of the design is preserved, minor differences of detail in the manner in which the appearance is produced, observable by experts, but not noticed by ordinary observers, by those who buy and use, are sufficient to relieve an imitating design from condemnation as an infringement.

We hold, therefore, that if, in the eye of an ordinary observer, giving such attention as a purchaser usually gives, two designs are substantially the same, if the resemblance is such as to deceive such an observer, inducing him to purchase one supposing it to be the other, the first one patented is infringed by the other.

Applying this rule to the facts of the present case, there is very little difficulty in coming to a satisfactory conclusion. The Gorham design, and the two designs sold by the defendant, which were patented to White, one in 1867, and the other in 1868, are alike the result of peculiarities of outline, or configuration, and of ornamentation. These make *529 up whatever is distinctive in appearance, and of these, the outline or configuration is most impressive to the eye. Comparing the figure or outline of the plaintiffs' design with that of the White design of 1867, it is apparent there is no substantial difference. This is in the main conceded. Even the minor differences are so minute as to escape observation unless observation is stimulated by a suspicion that there may be diversity. And there are the same resemblances between the plaintiffs' design and the White design of 1868, and, with a single addition, the minor differ ences are the same. That additional one consists in this. At the upper part of the handle, immediately above the point where the broader part widens from the stem with a rounded shoulder, while the external lines of both designs are first concave, and then gradually become convex, the degree of concavity is greater in the White design. How much effect this variance has must be determined by the evidence. In all the designs, the ornament is, in part, a rounded moulding or bead along the edge with scrolls at the shoulders and near the top. There are, however, some diversities in this ornament, which are discoverable when attention is called to them. In the plaintiffs' the bead is interrupted at the shoulders and at the tip by the scrolls, while in both the designs of White it is continued unbroken around the scrolls. In the plaintiffs' the scrolls turn inward at the shoulders and outward at the tip. In the White design they turn inward both at the shoulders and at the upper end. But there are the same number of scrolls in all the designs, and they are similarly located, all having the appearance of rosettes. In all the external bead is formed by a depressed line running near the edge of the handle, but in the plaintiffs' there is an inner line, making a second very thin bead, nearly parallel to the external bead common to them all. In the White designs this inner line is wanting on the stem of the handle, though not on the broad part, but as the single line is wider it presents much the same appearance as it would present if divided into two. There are other small differences which it is needless to specify. *530 What we have mentioned are the most prominent. No doubt to the eye of an expert they are all real. Still, though variances in the ornament are discoverable, the question remains, is the effect of the whole design substantially the same? Is the adornment in the White design used instrumentally to produce an appearance, a distinct device, or does it work the same result in the same way, and is it, therefore, a colorable evasion of the prior patent, amounting at most to a mere equivalent? In regard to this we have little doubt, in view of the evidence. Both the White designs we think are proved to be infringements of the Gorham patent. A large number of witnesses, familiar with designs, and most of them engaged in the trade, testify that, in their opinion, there is no substantial difference in the three designs, and that ordinary purchasers would be likely to mistake the White designs for the "cottage" (viz., that of the plaintiffs). This opinion is repeated in many forms of expression, as, that they are the same pattern; that the essential features are the same; that seven out of ten customers who buy silverware would consider them the same; that manufacturers as well as customers would consider them the same; that the trade generally would so consider them; that, though there are differences, they would not be noticed without a critical examination; that they are one and the same pattern, &c., &c. This is the testimony of men who, if there were a substantial difference in the appearance, or in the effect, would most readily appreciate it. Some think the White designs were intended to imitate the other, and they all agree that they are so nearly identical that ordinary purchasers of silverware would mistake one for the other. On the other hand a large number of witnesses have testified on behalf of the defendant that the designs are substantially unlike, but when they attempt to define the dissimilarity they specify only the minor differences in the ornamentation, of which we have heretofore spoken. Not one of them denies that the appearance of the designs is substantially the same, or asserts that the effect upon the eye of an observer is different, or that ordinary purchasers, or *531 even persons in the trade, would not be led by their similarity to mistake one for another. Their idea of what constitutes identity of design seems to be that it is the possibility of being struck from the same die, which, of course, cannot be if there exists the slightest variation in a single line. They give little importance to configuration, and none to general aspect. Such evidence is not an answer to the complainants' case. It leaves undisputed the facts that whatever differences there may be between the plaintiffs' design and those of the defendant in details of ornament, they are still the same in general appearance and effect, so much alike that in the market and with purchasers they would pass for the same thing — so much alike that even persons in the trade would be in danger of being deceived.

Unless, therefore, the patent is to receive such a construction that the act of Congress will afford no protection to a designer against imitations of his invention, we must hold that the sale by the defendant of spoons and forks bearing the designs patented to White in 1867 and 1868 is an infringement of the complainants' rights.

DECREE REVERSED and the cause remitted with instructions to enter a decree in ACCORDANCE WITH THIS OPINION.

Justices MILLER, FIELD, and BRADLEY dissented.


[*] 6 Chancery Appeal Cases, Law Reports, 418.

[†] 2 Appeal Cases, House of Lords, 388.