No. 101.

138 U.S. 537 (1891)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided March 2, 1891.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. J.H. Raymond and Mr. W.B. Hornblower for appellant.

Mr. A.J. Hopkins and Mr. J.M. Dickinson for appellee.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER delivered the opinion of the court.

After a careful examination of the evidence in this record, we are satisfied that the conclusions of the Circuit Court upon the facts are substantially correct. While there may be a conflict in some particulars, we regard the defendant's contention upon all points material to the disposition of the case as clearly sustained by the weight of the evidence, which we do not feel called upon to recapitulate.

In Canal Company v. Clark, 13 Wall. 311, 322, it was said by Mr. Justice Strong, speaking for the court, that "the office of a trademark is to point out distinctively the origin or ownership of the article to which it is affixed; or, in other words, to give notice who was the producer. This may, in many cases, be done by a name, a mark or a device well known, but not previously applied to the same article. But though it is not necessary that the word adopted as a trade name should be a new creation, never before known or used, there are some limits to the right of selection. This will be manifest when it is considered that in all cases where rights to the exclusive use of a trademark are invaded, it is invariably held that the essence of the wrong consists in the sale of the goods of one manufacturer or vendor as those of another; and that it is only when this false representation is directly or indirectly made that the party who appeals to a court of equity can have relief. This is the doctrine of all the authorities. Hence the trademark must either by itself, or by association, point distinctively to the origin or ownership of the article to which it is applied. The reason of this is that unless it does, neither can he who first adopted it be injured by any appropriation or imitation of it by others, nor can the public be deceived. The first appropriator of a name or device pointing to his ownership, or which, by being associated with articles of trade, has acquired an understood reference to the originator, or manufacturer of the articles, is injured whenever another adopts the same name or device for similar articles, because such adoption is in effect representing falsely that the productions of the latter are those of the former. Thus the custom and advantages to which the enterprise and skill of the first appropriator had given him a just right are abstracted for another's use, and this is done by deceiving the public, by inducing the public to purchase the goods and manufactures of one person supposing them to be those of another. The trademark must therefore be distinctive in its original signification, pointing to the origin of the article, or it must have become such by association. And there are two rules which are not to be overlooked. No one can claim protection for the exclusive use of a trademark or trade name which would practically give him a monopoly in the sale of any goods other than those produced or made by himself. If he could, the public would be injured rather than protected, for competition would be destroyed. Nor can a generic name, or a name merely descriptive of an article of trade, of its qualities, ingredients or characteristics, be employed as a trademark and the exclusive use of it be entitled to legal protection. As was said in the well-considered case of The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company v. Spear, (2 Sandf. Superior Ct. 599,) `the owner of an original trademark has an undoubted right to be protected in the exclusive use of all the marks, forms or symbols that were appropriated as designating the true origin or ownership of the article or fabric to which they are affixed; but he has no right to the exclusive use of any words, letters, figures or symbols, which have no relation to the origin or ownership of the goods, but are only meant to indicate their names or quality. He has no right to appropriate a sign or a symbol, which, from the nature of the fact it is used to signify, others may employ with equal truth, and therefore have an equal right to employ for the same purpose.'"

We quote thus at length, because the decision is a leading one, which has been repeatedly referred to and approved as presenting the philosophy of the law applicable to trademarks in a clear and satisfactory manner, as should also, indeed, be said of Judge Duer's noted opinion in the case therein cited. Manufacturing Co. v. Trainer, 101 U.S. 51; Manhattan Medicine Co. v. Wood, 108 U.S. 218; Goodyear Glove Co. v. Goodyear Rubber Co., 128 U.S. 598; Corbin v. Gould, 133 U.S. 308.

Nothing is better settled than that an exclusive right to the use of words, letters or symbols, to indicate merely the quality of the goods to which they are affixed, cannot be acquired. And while if the primary object of the mark be to indicate origin or ownership, the mere fact that the article has obtained such a wide sale that it has also become indicative of quality, is not of itself sufficient to debar the owner from protection, and make it the common property of the trade, (Burton v. Stratton, 12 Fed. Rep. 696,) yet if the device or symbol was not adopted for the purpose of indicating origin, manufacture or ownership, but was placed upon the article to denote class, grade, style or quality, it cannot be upheld as technically a trademark.

Manufacturing Co. v. Trainer, supra, which involved the use of the letters "A.C.A." in connection with a general device constituting a trademark, is very much in point, and the discussion by Mr. Justice Field, who delivered the opinion of the court, leaves little, if anything, to be added here. In that case as in this, there was some evidence tending to show that it was understood that the letters were used to indicate origin as well as quality, but it was considered to be entirely overborne by the disclosure of the name of the manufacturer in full and the history of the adoption of the letters to designate quality only, as narrated by complainant.

We held in Menendez v. Holt, 128 U.S. 514, 520, that the words "La Favorita" were so used as to indicate the origin of a special selection and classification of certain flour, requiring skill, judgment and expert knowledge, and which gave value and reputation to the flour. The name was purely arbitrary — a fancy name and in a foreign language — and did not in itself indicate quality. The legality of the trademark as such, (and it had been duly registered under the act of Congress,) was conceded by the answer, though it was contended in the argument that it was not valid because indicative only of quality; but we were of opinion that the primary object of its adoption was to symbolize the exercise of the judgment, skill and particular knowledge of the firm which adopted and used it, and that the phrase covered the wish to buy and the power to sell from that origin.

Since we are satisfied from the evidence that plaintiff failed to establish the existence of a trademark in the letters "LL," or that they constituted a material element in its trademark, relief cannot be accorded upon the ground of an infringement by defendant of an exclusive right in the plaintiff to use the letters as against all the world. The jurisdiction to restrain the use of a trademark rests upon the ground of the plaintiff's property in it, and of the defendant's unlawful use thereof. Boston Diatite Co. v. Florence Manufacturing Co., 114 Mass. 69. If the absolute right belonged to plaintiff, then if an infringement were clearly shown, the fraudulent intent would be inferred, and if allowed to be rebutted in exemption of damages, the further violation of the right of property would nevertheless be restrained. McLean v. Fleming, 96 U.S. 245; Menendez v. Holt, 128 U.S. 514.

It seems, however, to be contended that plaintiff was entitled at least to an injunction, upon the principles applicable to cases analogous to trademarks, that is to say, on the ground of fraud on the public and on the plaintiff, perpetrated by defendant by intentionally and fraudulently selling its goods as those of the plaintiff. Undoubtedly an unfair and fraudulent competition against the business of the plaintiff — conducted with the intent, on the part of the defendant, to avail itself of the reputation of the plaintiff to palm off its goods as plaintiff's — would, in a proper case, constitute ground for relief.

In Putnam Nail Co. v. Bennett, 43 Fed. Rep. 800, where the bill alleged that the defendants had imitated plaintiff's method of bronzing horse-shoe nails, which plaintiff used as a trademark, with the intention of deceiving the public into buying their goods instead of plaintiff's, and the question came up on demurrer, Mr. Justice Bradley, after stating certain averments of the bill, said orally: "There is here a substantial fact stated; that the public and customers have been, by the alleged conduct of the defendants, deceived and misled into buying the defendants' nails for the complainant's. That averment is amplified in paragraph four of the bill. Now a trademark, clearly such, is in itself evidence, when wrongfully used by a third party, of an illegal act. It is of itself evidence that the party intended to defraud, and to palm off his goods as another's. Whether this is in itself a good trademark or not, it is a style of goods adopted by the complainant which the defendants have imitated for the purpose of deceiving, and have deceived the public thereby, and induced them to buy their goods as the goods of the complainant. This is fraud. We think the case should not be decided on this demurrer, but that the demurrer should be overruled, and the defendants have the usual time to answer. The allegation that the complainant's peculiar style of goods is a trademark may be regarded as a matter of inducement to the charge of fraud. The latter is the substantial charge which we think the defendants should be required to answer." And see New York &c. Cement Co. v. Coplay Cement Co., 44 Fed. Rep. 277.

In Wotherspoon v. Currie, L.R. 5 H.L. 508, the plaintiffs had manufactured starch at Glenfield, which had become known as "Glenfield starch." They removed from Glenfield, but continued to call their starch by the same name. The defendant, though his place of business was at Paisley, commenced manufacturing starch at Glenfield, and selling the same in Scotland with the words "Glenfield starch" printed on the sale labels. This was interdicted by the Court of Session, but he continued to sell in England under a label of which "Glenfield" in larger or darker letters than any other on the packets was the pronounced feature, and the House of Lords held that he was putting the word Glenfield on his labels fraudulently and with the intention of making out that his starch was the starch of the plaintiff, who had by user acquired the right to the name of Glenfield starch, and enjoined him from so doing.

In Thompson v. Montgomery, 41 Ch. D. 35, 50, the plaintiffs and their predecessors had for a hundred years carried on a brewery at Stone, and their ale had become known as "Stone ale." They had registered several trademarks which contained the words "Stone ale" in combination with some device or name of their firm, and in 1888 they registered as an additional trademark the words "Stone ale" alone. The defendant built a brewery at Stone, over which he placed the words "Montgomery's Stone Brewery," with a device containing the words. "Stone ale," and a monogram somewhat resembling the plaintiffs' trademark. It was held that the plaintiffs could not register "Stone ale" as a trademark under the act of Parliament in that behalf, but that they had acquired by user the right to the use of the words "Stone ale;" and that the conduct of the defendant being, in the opinion of the court, calculated to deceive the public into supposing that his ales were brewed by plaintiffs, they were entitled to an injunction. Lord Justice Lindley remarked that, although the plaintiffs had no exclusive right to the use of the words "Stone ale" alone as against the world, or any right to prevent the defendant selling his goods as having been made at Stone, yet, "as against a particular defendant who is fraudulently using, or going to fraudulently use the words with the express purpose of passing off his goods as the goods of the plaintiffs, it appears to me that the plaintiffs may have rights which they may not have against other traders. In regard to that proposition, it appears to me that the Glenfield starch case has an extremely important bearing upon this case. The evidence in this case convinces me that any ale which may be sold by this particular defendant as `Stone ale' will be intended by him to be passed off as the plaintiffs' ale. I am satisfied that he does not use the words `Stone ale' for any honest purpose whatever, but according to the evidence with a distinctly fraudulent purpose. Is there any reason, then, why the court should not deal with him accordingly, and prevent him from carrying out such intention by restraining him from using the words which he will only use for that purpose? In my opinion the Glenfield starch case warrants us in going that length as against this particular defendant."

But the deceitful representation or perfidious dealing must be made out or be clearly inferable from the circumstances. If, in this case, the letters LL formed an important part of plaintiff's label, and the defendant had used them in such a way and under such circumstances as to amount to a false representation, which enabled it to sell and it did sell its goods as those of the plaintiff, and this without plaintiff's consent or acquiescence, then plaintiff might obtain relief within the principle of the cases just cited. But there is no such state of facts here. The brands are entirely dissimilar in appearance, and the letters have for years been understood generally as signifying grade or quality, and been so used by different manufacturers, and there is no proof justifying the inference of fraudulent intent, or of deception practiced on the plaintiff or on the public.

The decree is, therefore, affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE BLATCHFORD did not sit in this case or take any part in its decision; nor did MR. JUSTICE BROWN, who was not a member of the court when the case was argued.


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