77 U.S. 367 (1870)

10 Wall. 367


Supreme Court of United States.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Messrs. W. Schley and T. Donaldson, for the plaintiff in error:

Messrs. B.C. Presttman and S.T. Wallis, contra.

Mr. Justice SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.

The controversy between the parties in this court is confined to questions relating to the title of the defendants in error under the extended patent of August 23, 1860, alleged to have been infringed by the plaintiffs in error. The instruction given, and those refused by the court below, which are brought under review, must be examined in the light of the facts which the bill of exceptions discloses. Before proceeding to consider the main questions in the case, we deem it proper to dispose of others arising upon the record in regard to which we have found no difficulty and entertain no doubt.

The deed of Isaac R. Trimble of the 30th of May, 1861, conveyed all his rights under the patent, whatever they may have been, to the grantees in that instrument. If his title was sufficient, theirs is so. This was not controverted by the counsel for the plaintiffs in error, and needs no further remark.

The assignment of the 11th of June, 1864, to Aaron E. Burton, made by John E. Shaw, as receiver appointed in the case in equity in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, wherein Joseph Stone, administrator of Daniel Stone, was complainant, and Isaac R. Trimble defendant, was a nullity, and as such may be laid out of view. Looking into the record we find no evidence of the issuing of any process against Trimble, or that he was notified of the pendency of the suit by publication or otherwise. It does not appear that there was any step whatever taken to bring him before the court. The entire proceeding, as disclosed, was coram non judice and void. It may be added that Trimble's deed to his co-plaintiffs was prior in date to the filing of the bill, and that the title of the grantees in that deed could not be affected by a proceeding to which they were not parties.

If Trimble at the date of that deed held the title under the extended patent, which the defendants in error insist he had, the deed of confirmation to him from Howe's administrator, of the 18th of September, 1854, touching the patent of 1846, extended by the one in question, was inoperative and useless. It was referred to in the argument, as showing the construction put by the parties upon the deed of Howe to Trimble of the 9th of July, 1844. Where there is doubt as to the proper construction of an instrument, this feature of the case is entitled to great consideration. But where its meaning is clear in the eye of the law, the error of the parties cannot control its effect. In this view of the subject, conceding that Trimble took this conveyance, not out of abundant caution and to solve in his favor a doubt which might otherwise possibly arise against him, but because he deemed it necessary to give him a title which he did not already possess, his legal rights in this controversy are just what they would have been if that instrument had not been executed.

If the construction given to the deed of Howe by the counsel for the defendants in error be correct, and no part of the title vested in Trimble by that deed passed to Daniel Stone by the agreement of the 30th of September, 1846, between him and Trimble, as the counsel for the defendants in error insist, there was nothing for the deed of Howe's administrator to Stone of the 1st of April, 1861, nor for the deed of Stone's administrator of March 6, 1865, to Burton, to operate upon, and both of them were also without effect upon the rights of the parties in this litigation.

This brings us to the examination of the deed of Howe to Trimble, and of the agreement between Trimble and Stone. They are the hinges upon which the controversy turns. The stress of the argument on both sides was properly confined to these subjects in their several aspects of fact and of law.

The deed from Howe recites that he had obtained from the United States two patents for new and useful improvements in the construction of truss bridges and other structures, one dated on the 10th of July, the other on the 3d of August, in the year 1840. The instrument is a deed poll. After setting out the consideration, it proceeds as follows: "I have assigned, sold, and set over, and do hereby assign, sell, and set over, all the right, title, and interest which I have in said invention, as secured to me by said letters-patent, and also all right, title, and interest which may be secured to me for alterations and improvements on the same from time to time, for, to, and in the following states, viz.," &c... . "the same to be held and enjoyed by the said I.R. Trimble for his own use and behoof, and for the use and behoof of his legal representatives to the full end of the term for which said letters-patent are or may be granted, as fully and entirely as the same would have been held and enjoyed by me had this assignment and sale not have been made." A careful analysis of these provisions eliminates the following results: Howe assigns to Trimble all his title and interest in the inventions secured to him by the two patents mentioned, in respect to the territory specified, and also all the right and title which should be secured to him for alterations and improvements in the inventions, from time to time thereafter, for the same territory, to be held and enjoyed by Trimble to the full end of the terms for which patents had been theretofore, or might be thereafter, granted, in all respects as they would have been held and enjoyed by the assignor if the assignment had not been made.

The language employed is very broad. It includes alike the patents which had been issued and all which might be issued thereafter. No discrimination is made between those for the original inventions and those for alterations and improvements, nor between those which were first issues and those which were reissues or renewals and extensions. The entire inventions and all alterations and improvements, and all patents relating thereto, whensoever issued, to the extent of the territory specified, are within the scope of the terms employed. No other construction will satisfy them. Upon the fullest consideration we have no doubt such was the meaning and intent of the parties.

The effect of such a contract, we think, has been settled by this court in Gayler v. Wilder and others.* Fitzgerald, the inventor, before the patent was issued, assigned his entire right to Enos Wilder. The assignment contained a request that the patent should be issued to the assignee, and was duly recorded in the Patent Office. This brought the case within the terms of the 6th section of the act of 1836. Fitzgerald made no assignment after the patent was issued to him. Enos Wilder, his assignee, assigned to Benjamin Wilder, who was the plaintiff in the action. The defendants insisted that Enos Wilder had not the legal, but only an equitable title. Upon the question whether an assignment subsequent to the issuing of the patent was necessary to pass the former to the assignee, this court said: "We do not think the act of Congress requires it, but that when the patent issued to Fitzgerald, the legal right to the monopoly and the property it created was, by the operation of the assignment then on record, vested in Wilder." The argument which controlled the judgment of the court may be thus stated: Fitzgerald had an inchoate right at the time of the assignment, the invention being then complete and the specification prepared. It appeared, by the language of the assignment, that it was intended to operate upon the perfect legal title, which he then had a lawful right to obtain, as well as upon the inchoate right which he then possessed. There was no sound reason for defeating the intention of the parties by restricting the assignment to the latter interest, and compelling the parties to execute another transfer, unless the act of Congress required it, which, in the opinion of the court, it did not. The act of 1836 declares that every patent shall be assignable in law. The thing to be assigned is not the mere parchment on which the grant is written, but the monopoly which the grant confers — the right of property which it creates. "And when the party has acquired an inchoate right to it, and the power to make that right perfect and absolute at his pleasure, the assignment of his whole interest, whether executed before or after the patent issued, is equally within the provisions of the act of Congress." We concur in these views. The rule laid down is the law of this tribunal upon the subject. There the patent was an original one, here it is an extension. The question before us arises under the 11th and 18th sections of the act of 1836. But the arguments which controlled the decision in that case apply in this with equal force. The same considerations are involved in both. There is no substantial ground of distinction. The application of the same principle to the assignment of an extended patent, made before the extension, is an inevitable corollary from the reasoning and ruling of the court. Without, in effect, overruling that adjudication, we cannot hold that Trimble had not a legal title under the extended as well as under the original patent. In our judgment he had such a title.

In this connection our attention has been called by the counsel for the plaintiffs in error to Wilson v. Rousseau,* and several other cases. None of them turned upon the question we have been considering, and neither of them contains anything in conflict with the proposition established by Gayler v. Wilder.

It remains to consider the contract between Trimble and Daniel Stone.

It recites the agreement between Trimble and Howe, and the payments thereby stipulated to be made by Trimble. Stone covenants to pay one-half of the instalments still unpaid as they should mature.

This clause follows:

"And the said Isaac R. Trimble, in consideration of the said payments, promises, and agreements on the part of the said Daniel Stone as aforesaid, for and on the part of himself, the said Isaac R. Trimble, and his heirs, executors, and administrators, covenants and agrees, and by these presents doth covenants and agree, to sell and transfer, and doth hereby sell and transfer unto the said Daniel Stone, his heirs, executors, and administrators, the one equal moiety or half-part of all the right, title, claim, and interest of him, the said Isaac R. Trimble, of, in, and to the patent-right aforesaid, which he purchased as aforesaid of the said William Howe, the sale heretofore made to Reading excepted."

A copartnership between the parties in the business of building bridges under Howe's patents was then entered into, and it was agreed that if either party should at any time desire a dissolution, Trimble should name a sum which he would be willing to give or take for a moiety of the rights which he acquired from Howe, including the payments to Howe, and that Stone should thereupon decide whether he would buy or sell. It was further provided that the copartnership might be dissolved at the expiration of six months after notice by either party.

Trimble was examined as a witness, and testified as follows: Stone never made any of the payments which he was required to make by the contract. By common consent of the parties, the contract never went into operation in any way, because Stone was unable to comply with any of his engagements. Trimble was compelled to pay, and did pay, the full amount of the instalments still due on his contract with Howe. Stone during his lifetime never claimed any right under the contract; but, on the contrary, always recognized Trimble's exclusive right to the interest referred to in the agreement, and acted as Trimble's agent in building bridges, under a power of attorney, paying Trimble a part of the profits for the privilege. There was no other evidence on the subject. Trimble's testimony was uncontradicted.

The agreement was recorded in the Patent Office on the 27th of July, 1864, after Stone's death, and more than eighteen years after the date of its execution.

The words, "and do hereby sell and transfer," found in the copy from the Patent Office, which was used in evidence in the court below, are not in the copy annexed to the bill filed in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. But, conceding that they were in the contract as executed, and that the contract had the same effect in transferring to Stone a moiety of Trimble's rights and interests, which Trimble's contract with Howe had in transferring the whole to Trimble, then a question arose for the jury as to the effect of the facts disclosed in Trimble's testimony. Upon the trial the court, at the request of the plaintiffs, charged the jury in effect, that if they found the facts to be as testified by Trimble, the contract between Trimble and Stone "was not to be regarded as passing any title to Stone, which the defendant was entitled to set up in connection with any other evidence in the cause as a bar to the right of the plaintiffs to recover," provided they found also the execution and delivery of Trimble's deed to his co-plaintiffs. To this instruction the plaintiffs in error excepted.

If the facts were as alleged by Trimble, his contract with Stone was stillborn. It never had any vitality. Neither the legal representative of Stone nor any one in privity with him asserts its validity in this litigation. It is vicariously put forward by the plaintiffs in error. They seek to give it life and vigor, and invoke its aid for their protection.

If a deed of real estate be executed and recorded, primâ facie it conveys the legal title; but if it be shown it was not delivered, that destroys its effect.* A judgment may be assigned without written evidence of the transfer. A party may waive a constitutional provision which applies in his favor.* Fraud or mistake in the execution of a deed may be shown at law. The most solemn contracts under seal, where the statute of frauds is not involved, may be changed or abrogated by a new parol agreement, express or implied; and a contract within the statute may be taken out of it by the conduct of the parties. If Stone's administrator were to sue Trimble, and the facts should be established as Trimble alleges them to be, the action would be barred by estoppel in pais. We think the instruction was correct, and that it properly submitted this part of the case to the jury.

The plaintiffs in error submitted eight prayers for instructions. The 2d, 3d, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th, were refused. The refusal was excepted to. Some of the points which they present were not insisted upon in the argument at the bar. The others are sufficiently answered by what has already been said.


Mr. Justice BRADLEY dissented, on the ground that there was not enough language in the assignment of Howe to Trimble to show that a transfer of the extension was intended.


* 10 Howard, 477.
* 4 Howard, 682.
* Maynard v. Maynard et al., 10 Massachusetts, 456.
† Ford v. Stuart, 19 Johnson, 342.
* Baker v. Braman, 6 Hill, 48.
† Hartshorn, Executor, v. Day, 19 Howard, 223.
‡ Emerson v. Slater, 22 Howard, 41.


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