KESSLER V. ELDRED, 206 U. S. 285 (1907)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kessler v. Eldred, 206 U.S. 285 (1907)

Kessler v. Eldred

No. 16

Submitted April 17, 1907

Decided May 1, 1907

206 U.S. 285


Rights between litigants once established by the final judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction must be recognized in every way, and wherever the judgment is entitled to respect, by those who are bound thereby.

The defeated party in an infringement suit will be restrained by a court of equity from interfering with the business of the successful defendant by bringing infringement suits based on the same patents against the customers of the latter.

This case comes to this Court from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upon a certificate of that court of questions of law concerning which it desires instructions. Accompanying the certificate is a statement of facts. The statement of the facts and the certificate of the questions of law are as follows:

Kessler, a citizen of Indiana, prior to 1898, had built up an extensive business in the manufacture and sale of electric cigar lighters, and had customers throughout the United States. Eldred, a citizen of Illinois, and an inhabitant of the Northern District, was the owner of patent No. 492,913, issued to Chambers on March 7, 1893, for an electric lamp lighter. Eldred was a competitor of Kessler's and manufactured a similar form of lighter (entirely dissimilar from that described in the Chambers patent), so that it was not a matter of much importance to customers which lighter they bought. In 1898, Eldred began a suit against Kessler in the District of Indiana for the infringement of the Chambers patent. The bill alleged that Kessler's manufacture and sale of the Kessler lighter infringed all the claims. The answer denied that Kessler's lighter infringed any of the Chambers claims. On final hearing, the circuit court found for Kessler on the issue of noninfringement

Page 206 U. S. 286

and dismissed the bill. That decree was affirmed in 1900 by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Eldred v. Kessler, 106 F.5d 9.

Subsequently, Eldred brought suit on the same patent in the Northern District of New York against Kirkland, who was selling a similar lighter, but not of Kessler's make. The circuit court found for Kirkland on the issue of noninfringement, and dismissed the bill. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed that decree and held the Kirkland lighter to be an infringement. Eldred v. Kirkland, 130 F.3d 2.

In June, 1904, Eldred filed a bill for infringement of the same patent in the Western district of New York against Breitwieser, user of Kessler lighters, which were identical with those held in Eldred v. Kessler to be no infringement of the Chambers patent. Many of Kessler's customers were intimidated by the Breitwieser suit, so that they ceased to send in further orders for lighters, and refused to pay their accounts for lighters already sold and delivered to them. Kessler assumed the defense of the Breitwieser suit, and will be compelled, in the proper discharge of his duty to his customers, to assume the burden and expense of all suits which may be brought by Eldred against other customers. In this state of affairs, Kessler, a citizen of Indiana, in July, 1904, filed a bill against Eldred in the Circuit Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the state and district of Eldred's citizenship and residence, to enjoin Eldred from prosecuting any suit in any court of the United States against anyone for alleged infringement of the Chambers patent by purchase, use, or sale of any electric cigar lighter manufactured by Kessler and identical with the lighter in evidence before the Circuit Court for the District of Indiana and the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in the trial and adjudication of the suit of Eldred against Kessler. From an adverse decree by the circuit court, Kessler perfected an appeal to this Court.

Upon the foregoing facts the questions of law concerning

Page 206 U. S. 287

which this Court desires the instruction and advice of the Supreme Court are these:

First. Did the decree in Kessler's favor rendered by the Circuit Court for the District of Indiana, in the suit of Eldred against Kessler, have the effect of entitling Kessler to continue the business of manufacturing and selling throughout the United States the same lighter he had theretofore been manufacturing and selling, without molestation by Eldred, through the Chambers patent?

Second. Did the decree mentioned in the first question have the effect of making a suit by Eldred against any customer of Kessler's for alleged infringement of the Chambers patent by use or sale of Kessler's lighters a wrongful interference by Eldred with Kessler's business?

Third. Did Kessler's assumption of the defense of Eldred's suit against Breitwieser deprive Kessler of the right, if that right would otherwise exist, of proceeding against Eldred in the state and district of his citizenship and residence for wrongfully interfering with Kessler's business?

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