The complainant, a manufacturer of proprietary medicines which are prepared in accordance with secret formulas, presents by its bill a system, carefully devised, by which it seeks to maintain certain prices fixed by it for all the sales of its products both at wholesale and retail. Its purpose is to establish minimum prices at which sales shall be made by its vendees and by all subsequent purchasers who traffic in its remedies. Its plan is thus to govern directly the entire trade in the medicines it manufactures, embracing interstate commerce as well as commerce within the States respectively. To accomplish this result it has adopted two forms of restrictive agreements limiting trade in the articles to those who become parties to one or the other. The one sort of contract known as "Consignment Contract — Wholesale," has been made with over four hundred jobbers and wholesale dealers, and the other, described as "Retail Agency Contract," with twenty-five thousand retail dealers in the United States.
The defendant is a wholesale drug concern which has refused to enter into the required contract, and is charged with procuring medicines for sale at "cut prices" by inducing those who have made the contracts to violate the restrictions. The complainant invokes the established doctrine that an actionable wrong is committed by one who maliciously interferes with a contract between two parties and induces one of them to break that contract to the injury of the other and that, in the absence of an adequate
The principal question is as to the validity of the restrictive agreements.
Preliminarily there are opposing contentions as to the construction of the agreements, or at least of that made with jobbers and wholesale dealers. The complainant insists that the "consignment contract" contemplates a true consignment for sale for account of the complainant, and that those who make sales under it are the complainant's agents and not its vendees. The court below did not so construe the agreement and considered it an effort "to disguise the wholesale dealers in the mask of agency upon the theory that in that character one link in the system for the suppression of the `cut rate' business might be regarded as valid," and that under this agreement "the jobber must be regarded as the general owner and engaged in selling for himself and not as a mere agent of another." 164 Fed. Rep. 805.
There are certain allegations in the bill which do not accord with the complainant's argument. Thus it is alleged that it "has been and is the uniform custom" of the complainant "to sell said medicines, remedies and cures to jobbers and wholesale druggists, who in turn sell and dispose of the same to retail druggists for sale and distribution to the ultimate purchaser or consumer." And in setting forth the form of the agreement in question it is alleged that it was "required to be executed by all jobbers and wholesale druggists to whom your orator sold its aforesaid remedies, medicines and cures." It is further stated that as a means of maintaining "said list of prices," cards bearing serial identifying numbers are placed in each package of remedies "sold to jobbers and wholesale druggists." But it is also alleged in the bill that under the provisions
Turning to the agreement itself, we find that it purports to appoint the party with whom it is made one of the complainant's "Wholesale Distributing Agents," and it is agreed that the complainant, as proprietor, shall consign to the agent "for sale for the account of said Proprietor" such goods as it may deem necessary, "the title thereto and property therein to be and remain in the Proprietor absolutely until sold under and in accordance with the provisions hereof, and all unsold goods to be immediately returned to said Proprietor on demand and the cancellation of this agreement." The goods are to be invoiced to the consignee at stated prices, which are the same as the minimum prices at which the consignee is allowed to sell. It is also agreed that the consignee shall "faithfully and promptly account and pay to the Proprietor the proceeds of all sales, after deducting as full compensation . . . a commission of ten per cent of the invoice value, and a further commission of five per cent on the net amount of each consignment, after deducting the said ten per cent commission, on all advances on account remitted within ten days from the date of any consignment," such advances, however, not to affect the title to the goods and to be repaid should the agreement be terminated and unsold goods, on which advances had been made, be returned. The consignee guarantees payment for all goods sold and promises "to render a full account and remit the net proceeds on the first day of each month of and for the sales of the month preceding."
The consignee agrees "to sell only to the designated Retail Agents of said Proprietor as specified in lists of such Retail Agents furnished by said Proprietor and alterable at the will of said Proprietor." A further provision permits sales "only to the said Retail or Wholesale Agents
It is urged that the additional commission of five per cent is to induce, through the guise of "advances," payment for the goods before sales are made, and that unsold goods are to be returned only on the complainant's demand and the cancellation of the agreement. But the consignee is not bound to make these "advances" and it is distinctly provided that he shall not acquire title by making them. It is also said that the consignee may sell at prices higher than those listed, but he is bound by the agreement to account for "the proceeds of all sales" less the stipulated commissions. Nor is the provision as to the time for accounting and remittance of net proceeds to be regarded as inconsistent with agency, in the absence of a showing that in the actual transactions and accounts the consignee was treated as selling on his own behalf and paying as purchaser.
If, however, we consider the "consignment contract" as one which in legal effect provides for consignments of goods to be sold by an agent for his principal's account, and that the tenor of the agreement as set forth must be taken to override the inconsistent general allegations to which we have referred, this alone would not be sufficient to support the bill.
The bill charges that the defendant has unlawfully and fraudulently procured the proprietary medicines from the complainant's "wholesale and retail agents" in violation of their contracts. But it does not allege that the goods procured by the defendant from "wholesale agents" were goods consigned to the latter for sale. The description "wholesale agent" refers to those who have signed the "consignment contract." This contract, however, permits one "wholesale agent" to sell to another "wholesale agent." For all that appears, the goods procured by the defendant may have been purchased by the defendant's
The other form of contract, adopted by the complainant, while described as a "retail agency contract," is clearly an agreement looking to sale and not to agency. The so-called "retail agents" are not agents at all, either of the complainant or of its consignees, but are contemplated purchasers who buy to sell again, that is, retail dealers. It is agreed that they may purchase the medicines manufactured
"In consideration whereof said Retail Agent agrees in no case to sell or furnish the said Proprietary Medicines to any person, firm or corporation whatsoever, at less than the full retail price as printed on the packages, without reduction for quantity; and said Retail Agent further agrees not to sell the said Proprietary Medicines at any price to Wholesale or Retail dealers not accredited agents of the Dr. Miles Medical Company."
It will be noticed that the "retail agents" are not forbidden to sell either to wholesale or retail dealers if these are "accredited agents" of the complainant, that is if the dealers have signed either of the two contracts the complainant requires. But the restriction is intended to apply whether the retail dealers have bought the goods from those who held under consignment or from other dealers, wholesale or retail, who had purchased them. And in which way the "retail agents" who supplied the medicines to the defendant, had bought them is not shown.
The bill asserts complainant's "right to maintain and preserve the aforesaid system and method of contracts and sales adopted and established by it." It is, as we have seen, a system of interlocking restrictions by which the complainant seeks to control not merely the prices at which its agents may sell its products, but the prices for all sales by all dealers at wholesale or retail, whether purchasers or subpurchasers, and thus to fix the amount which the consumer shall pay, eliminating all competition. The essential features of such a system are thus described by Mr. Justice Lurton (then Circuit Judge), in the opinion of the Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of John D. Park & Sons Company v. Samuel B. Hartman, 153 Fed. Rep. 24, 42: "The contracting wholesalers or jobbers covenant that they will sell to no one who does not come with complainant's license to buy, and that they will not sell
That these agreements restrain trade is obvious. That, having been made, as the bill alleges, with "most of the jobbers and wholesale druggists and a majority of the retail druggists of the country" and having for their purpose the control of the entire trade, they relate directly to interstate as well as intrastate trade, and operate to restrain trade or commerce among the several States, is also clear. Addyston Pipe & Steel Co. v. United States, 175 U.S. 211; Bement v. National Harrow Co., 186 U.S. p. 92; Montague & Co. v. Lowry, 193 U.S. 38; Swift & Co. v. United States, 196 U.S. 375.
But it is insisted that the restrictions are not invalid either at common law or under the act of Congress of July 2, 1890, c. 647, 26 Stat. 209, upon the following grounds, which may be taken to embrace the fundamental contentions for the complainant: (1) That the restrictions are valid because they relate to proprietary medicines manufactured under a secret process; and (2) that, apart from this, a manufacturer is entitled to control the prices on all sales of his own products.
First. The first inquiry is whether there is any distinction,
But whatever rights the patentee may enjoy are derived from statutory grant under the authority conferred by the Constitution. This grant is based upon public considerations. The purpose of the patent law is to stimulate invention by protecting inventors for a fixed time in the advantages that may be derived from exclusive manufacture, use and sale. As was said by Chief Justice Marshall in Grant v. Raymond, 6 Pet. 241-243: "It is the reward stipulated for the advantages derived by the public for the exertions of the individual, and is intended as a stimulus to those exertions. . . . The public yields nothing which it has not agreed to yield; it receives all which it has contracted to receive. The full benefit of the discovery, after its enjoyment by the discoverer for fourteen years, is preserved; and for his exclusive enjoyment of it during that time the public faith is pledged. . . . The great object and intention of the act is to secure to the public the advantages to be derived from the discoveries of individuals, and the means it employs are the compensation
The complainant has no statutory grant. So far as appears, there are no letters patent relating to the remedies in question. The complainant has not seen fit to make the disclosure required by the statute and thus to secure the privileges it confers. Its case lies outside the policy of the patent law, and the extent of the right which that law secures is not here involved or determined.
The complainant relies upon the ownership of its secret process and its rights are to be determined accordingly. Any one may use it who fairly, by analysis and experiment, discovers it. But the complainant is entitled to be protected against invasion of its right in the process by fraud or by breach of trust or contract. Tabor v. Hoffman, 118 N.Y. 36; Chadwick v. Covell, 151 Massachusetts, 190. The secret process may be the subject of confidential communication and of sale or license to use with restrictions as to territory and prices. Fowle v. Park, 131 U.S. 88. A similar principle obtains with respect to the confidential communication of quotations collected by a board of trade. Board of Trade v. Christie Grain & Stock Co., 198 U.S. 236.
Here, however, the question concerns not the process of manufacture, but the manufactured product, an article of commerce. The complainant has not communicated its process in trust, or under contract, or executed a license for the use of the process with restrictions as to the manufacture and sale by the licensee to whom the communication is made. The complainant has retained its secret which apparently it believes to be undiscoverable. Whether its remedies are sold or unsold, whether the restrictions as to future sales are valid or invalid, the complainant's secret remains intact. That the complainant may rightfully object
If a manufacturer, in the absence of statutory privilege, has the control over the sales of the manufactured article,
Second. We come, then, to the second question, whether the complainant, irrespective of the secrecy of its process, is entitled to maintain the restrictions by virtue of the fact that they relate to products of its own manufacture.
The basis of the argument appears to be that, as the manufacturer may make and sell, or not, as he chooses, he may affix conditions as to the use of the article or as to the prices at which purchasers may dispose of it. The propriety of the restraint is sought to be derived from the liberty of the producer.
But because a manufacturer is not bound to make or sell, it does not follow that in case of sales actually made he may impose upon purchasers every sort of restriction. Thus a general restraint upon alienation is ordinarily invalid. "The right of alienation is one of the essential incidents of a right of general property in movables, and restraints upon alienation have been generally regarded as obnoxious to public policy, which is best subserved by great freedom of traffic in such things as pass from hand to hand. General restraint in the alienation of articles, things, chattels, except when a very special kind of property is involved, such as a slave or an heirloom, have been generally held void. `If a man,' says Lord Coke, in Coke on Littleton, section 360, `be possessed of a horse or any other chattel, real or personal, and give his whole interest or property therein, upon condition that the donee or vendee shall not alien the same, the same is void, because his whole interest and property is out of him, so as he hath
Nor can the manufacturer by rule and notice, in the absence of contract or statutory right, even though the restriction be known to purchasers, fix prices for future sales. It has been held by this court that no such privilege exists under the copyright statutes, although the owner of the copyright has the sole right to vend copies of the copyrighted production. Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus, 210 U.S. 339. There the court said (p. 351): "The owner of the copyright in this case did sell copies of the book in quantities and at a price satisfactory to it. It has exercised the right to vend. What the complainant contends for embraces not only the right to sell the copies, but to qualify the title of a future purchaser by the reservation of the right to have the remedies of the statute against an infringer because of the printed notice of its purpose so to do unless the purchaser sells at a price fixed in the notice. To add to the right of exclusive sale the authority to control all future retail sales, by a notice that such sales must be made at a fixed sum, would give a right not included in the terms of the statute, and, in our view, extend its operation, by construction, beyond its meaning, when interpreted with a view to ascertaining the legislative intent in its enactment." It will hardly be contended, with respect to such a matter, that the manufacturer of an article of commerce, not protected by any statutory grant, is in any better case. See Taddy & Co. v. Sterious & Co. (1904), 1 Ch. 354; McGruther v. Pitcher (1904), 2 Ch. 306; Garst v. Hall & Lyon Co., 179 Massachusetts, 588. Whatever right the manufacturer may have to project his control beyond his own sales must depend, not upon an inherent power incident to production and original ownership, but upon agreement.
"The true view at the present time," said Lord Macnaghten in Nordenfelt v. Maxim-Nordenfelt &c. Co., 1904, A.C. p. 565, "I think, is this: The public have an interest in every person's carrying on his trade freely: so has the individual. All interference with individual liberty of action in trading, and all restraints of trade of themselves, if there is nothing more, are contrary to public policy, and therefore void. That is the general rule. But there are exceptions: restraints of trade and interference with individual liberty of action may be justified by the special
The present case is not analogous to that of a sale of good will, or of an interest in a business, or of the grant of a right to use a process of manufacture. The complainant has not parted with any interest in its business or instrumentalities of production. It has conferred no right by virtue of which purchasers of its products may compete with it. It retains complete control over the business in which it is engaged, manufacturing what it pleases and fixing such prices for its own sales as it may desire. Nor are we dealing with a single transaction, conceivably unrelated to the public interest. The agreements are designed to maintain prices, after the complainant has parted with the title to the articles, and to prevent competition among those who trade in them.
The bill asserts the importance of a standard retail price and alleges generally that confusion and damage have resulted from sales at less than the prices fixed. But the advantage of established retail prices primarily concerns the dealers. The enlarged profits which would result from adherence to the established rates would go to them and not to the complainant. It is through the inability of the favored dealers to realize these profits, on account of the described competition, that the complainant works out its alleged injury. If there be an advantage to a manufacturer in the maintenance of fixed retail prices, the question remains whether it is one which he is entitled to secure by agreements restricting the freedom of trade on the part of dealers who own what they
But agreements or combinations between dealers, having for their sole purpose the destruction of competition and the fixing of prices, are injurious to the public interest and void. They are not saved by the advantages which the participants expect to derive from the enhanced price to the consumer. People v. Sheldon, 139 N.Y. 251; Judd v. Harrington, 139 N.Y. 105; People v. Milk Exchange, 145 N.Y. 267; United States v. Addyston Pipe & Steel Co., 85 Fed. Rep. 271; on app. 175 U.S. 211; Montague & Co. v. Lowry, 193 U.S. 38; Chapin v. Brown, 83 Iowa, 156; Craft v. McConoughy, 79 Illinois, 346; W.H. Hill Co. v. Gray & Worcester, 127 N.W. Rep. (Mich.) 803.
The complainant's plan falls within the principle which condemns contracts of this class. It, in effect, creates a combination for the prohibited purposes. No distinction can properly be made by reason of the particular character of the commodity in question. It is not entitled to special privilege or immunity. It is an article of commerce and the rules concerning the freedom of trade must be held to apply to it. Nor does the fact that the margin of freedom is reduced by the control of production make the protection of what remains, in such a case, a negligible matter. And where commodities have passed into the channels of trade and are owned by dealers, the validity of agreements to prevent competition and to maintain prices is not to be determined by the circumstance whether they were produced by several manufacturers or by one,
The questions involved were carefully considered and the decisions reviewed by Judge Lurton in delivering the opinion of the Circuit Court of Appeals in Park v. Hartman, supra, and, in following that case, it was concluded below that the restrictions sought to be enforced by the bill were invalid both at common law and under the act of Congress of July 2, 1890. We think that the court was right.
The allegations of the bill as to the labels and cartons used by the complainant are evidently incidental to the main charge as to the procurement of violation of the restrictions as to prices and vendees contained in the agreement; and failing as to this no case is made for relief with respect to the trade-marks, which are not shown to have been infringed.
MR. JUSTICE LURTON took no part in the consideration and decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES, dissenting.
This is a bill to restrain the defendant from inducing, by corruption and fraud, agents of the plaintiff and purchasers from it to break their contracts not to sell its goods below a certain price. There are two contracts concerned. The first is that of the jobber or wholesale agent to whom the plaintiff consigns its goods, and I will say a few words about that, although it is not this branch of the case that induces me to speak. That they are agents and not buyers I understand to be conceded, and I do not see how it
The second contract is that of the retail agents, so called, being really the first purchasers, fixing the price below which they will not sell to the public. There is no attempt to attach a contract or condition to the goods, as in Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus, 210 U.S. 339, or in any way to restrict dealings with them after they leave the hands of the retail men. The sale to the retailers is made by the plaintiff, and the only question is whether the law forbids a purchaser to contract with his vendor that he will not sell
But I go farther. There is no statute covering the case; there is no body of precedent that by ineluctable logic requires the conclusion to which the court has come. The conclusion is reached by extending a certain conception of public policy to a new sphere. On such matters we are in perilous country. I think that, at least, it is safe to say that the most enlightened judicial policy is to let people manage their own business in their own way, unless the ground for interference is very clear. What then is the ground upon which we interfere in the present case? Of course, it is not the interest of the producer. No one, I judge, cares for that. It hardly can be the interest of subordinate vendors, as there seems to be no particular reason for preferring them to the originator and first vendor of the product. Perhaps it may be assumed to be the interest of the consumers and the public. On that point I confess that I am in a minority as to larger issues than
The conduct of the defendant falls within a general prohibition of the law. It is fraudulent and has no merits of its own to recommend it to the favor of the court. An injunction against a defendant's dealing in non-transferable round-trip reduced rate tickets has been granted to a railroad company upon the general principles of the law protecting contracts, and the demoralization of rates has