The Supreme Court and our Intellectual Property System
Patents, trademarks, and copyrights have a very special
role in our government because they are specifically mentioned
in Section 1 of the Constitution, which is known as the Enumerated Powers
Clause. The constitution gives Congress the power to enact
laws for certain purposes, such as the creation of money and to
"promote the progress of science and the useful arts."
The annotated Constitution
and Supreme Court cases are available
from Justia, an excellent
example of Open Data on the net.
In A & P. TEA CO. v. SUPERMARKET CORP., 340 U.S. 147 (1950)
, Justice William O. Douglas wrote:
Every patent is the grant of a privilege of exacting
tolls from the public. The Framers plainly did not want those
monopolies freely granted. The invention, to justify a patent,
had to serve the ends of science - to push back the frontiers
of chemistry, physics, and the like; to make a distinctive contribution
to scientific knowledge.
In that same opinion, one can sense that Justice
Douglas, then operating in his prime, was a bit irked at the patent
office for wasting his time for with patents granted on useless
devices. As he said, this "dramatically illustrates how far
our patent system frequently departs from the constitutional standards
which are supposed to govern."
Here is a list of the useless
patents (and some choice words aimed at the Patent Office).
In SCOTT PAPER CO. v. MARCALUS MFG. CO., 326 U.S. 249 (1945),
Mr. Justice Stone wrote:
By the patent laws Congress has given to the inventor
opportunity to secure the material rewards for his invention for
a limited time, on condition that he make full disclosure for
the benefit of the public of the manner of making and using the
invention, and that upon the expiration of the patent the public
be left free to use the invention.
The aim of the patent laws is not only that members
of the public shall be free to manufacture the product or employ
the process disclosed by the expired patent, but also that the
consuming public at large shall receive the benefits of the unrestricted
exploitation, by others, of its disclosures. Kellogg Co. v. National
Biscuit Co., 305 U.S. 111,
117-120, 59 S.Ct. 109, 113, 114.
In Kendall v. Winsor, 62
U.S. 322 (1858), Mr. Justice Daniel wrote that the entire
purpose of the patent laws is disclosure of the device to the
It is undeniably true, that the limited and temporary
monopoly [62 U.S. 322, 328] granted to inventors was never designed
for their exclusive profit or advantage; the benefit to the public
or community at large was another and doubtless the primary object
in granting and securing that monopoly. … The true policy
and ends of the patent laws enacted under this Government are
disclosed in that article of the Constitution, the source of all
these laws, viz: 'to promote the progress of science and the useful
arts,' contemplating and necessarily implying their extension,
and increasing adaptation to the uses of society. (Vide Constitution
of the United States, art. I, sec. 8, clause 9.) By correct induction
from these truths, it follows, that the inventor who designedly,
and with the view of applying it indefinitely and exclusively
for his own profit, withholds his invention from the public, comes
not within the policy or objects of the Constitution or acts of
Congress. He does not promote, and, if aided in his design, would
impede, the progress of science and the useful arts.
In PRECISION INSTRUMENT MFG. CO. v. AUTOMOTIVE
MAINTENANCE MACHINERY, 324 U.S. 806 (1945),
Mr. Justice Murphy wrote:
A patent by its very nature is affected with a public
interest. As recognized by the Constitution, it is a special privilege
designed to serve the public purpose of promoting the 'Progress
of Science and useful Arts.' At the same time, a patent is an
exception to the general rule against monopolies and to the right
to access to a free and open market. The far-reaching social and
economic consequences of a patent, therefore, give the public
a paramount interest in seeing that patent monopolies spring from
backgrounds free from fraud or other inequitable conduct and that
such monopolies are kept within their legitimate scope.
IN RE TRADE-MARK CASES, 100 U.S. 82
In these cases, one defendant was collared by the
feds for "knowingly and wilfully having in his possession
counterfeits and colorable imitations of the trade-marks of G.
H. Mumm & Co., of Rheims, France, manufacturers and sellers
of champagne wine." The other defendants were collared for
bootleg whiskey sold under the then-quality "OK" label.
In arguing for why the U.S. treaty with France should be upheld,
the Attorney General of the United States pleaded for the court's
Trade-marks are important instrumentalities, aids,
or appliances by which trade, especially in modern times, is conducted.
They are the means by which manufacturers and merchants identify
their manufactures and merchandise. They are the symbols by which
men engaged in trade and manufactures become known in the marts
of commerce, by which their reputation and that of their goods
are extended and published; and as they become better known, the
profits of their business are enhanced.
And, in MOTION PICTURE PATENTS CO. v. UNIVERSAL FILM
MFG. CO., 243 U.S. 502 (1917),
the court wrote:
1829, this court
has consistently held that the primary purpose of our patent laws
is not the creation of private fortunes for the owners of patents,
but is 'to promote the progress of science and the useful arts'
( Constitution, art. 1, 8),-an object and purpose authoritatively
expressed by Mr. Justice Story, in that decision, saying:
- 'While one great object [of our patent laws]
was, by holding out a reasonable reward to inventors and giving
them an exclusive right to their inventions for a limited period,
to stimulate the efforts of genius, the main object was 'to promote
the progress of science and useful arts."
This court has never modified this statement of the
relative importance of the public and private interests involved
in every grant of a patent, even while declaring that, in the
construction of patents and the patent laws, inventors shall be
fairly, even liberally, treated. Grant v. Raymond, 6 Pet. 218,
241, 8 L. ed. 376, 384; Winans v. Denmead, 15 How. 330, 14 L.
ed. 717; Walker, Patents, 185.
These rules of law make it very clear that the scope
of the grant which may be made to an inventor in a patent, pursuant
to the statute, must be limited to the invention described in
the claims of his patent