Adams v. Burke

In Adams v. Burke, 17 Wall. 453, 21 L.Ed. 700 (1873) the original patentees assigned to a firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, all their right in the invention to a circular territory extending ten miles from the city of Boston. Defendant, an undertaker doing business at Natick, outside of this territory, bought certain coffins of the Cambridge firm, and used them in burying the dead, but sold none, except so far as the use of the coffins in his business could be considered as a sale. It was held that the defendant, having purchased the coffins of one who had a lawful right to sell them, had a right to use them anywhere; that the patentee, having received his consideration, the patented articles were no longer within the monopoly of the patent. The case was treated both in the opinion of the court and in the dissent, in which three Justices concurred, as a case of use and not of sale, and Mr. Justice Miller in delivering the opinion observed: "Whatever, therefore, may be the rule when patentees subdivide territorially their patents, as to the exclusive right to make or to sell within a limited territory, we hold that in the class of machines or implements we have described, when they are once lawfully made and sold, there is no restriction on their use to be implied for the benefit of the patentee or his assignees or licensees." The dissenting Justices were of opinion that the assignment did not confer upon the assignee the right to sell the patented article to be used outside of his territory. There was no suggestion in either opinion that a purchaser from the assignee had or could have the right to deal in the patented article outside of the territory in which the purchase was made.