Imatges de pÓgina

of the inventor were acknowledged, his rights defined and protected, and his reward secured ; while a public interest was effectually created and a barrier against injurious consequences erected for the benefit of posterity.

Hence may be collected both the origin and the policy of the act of Parliament. With this statute before them, and with a full knowledge of the principles and policy on which it was founded, the several states ceded to Congress

a power to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their writings and discoveries.” The English law had limited the right to a term of years. The power ceded by our Constitution was to secure it "for limited times :" the former restricting the right to a definite period; the latter adopting the same principle, but leaving the quantum of interest to the discretion of the National Legislature. In execu. tion of this power, several acts have been passed by Congress, and are now in force, defining the limits for which the exclusive rights of authors and inventors to their writings and discoveries shall be enjoyed, and securing such enjoyment for different periods in different cases, by penalties and other appropriate remedies against those who violate the right.

The object, therefore, of this provision of the Constitution, and of the laws enacted in virtue of it, is twofold: first, to secure to inventors and to authors a reward for their labours; and, secondly, to secure to the public the benefit of their works, by bringing the property in them into the common stock, after the expiration of the times limited for the exclusive privilege ;

and it is manifest that this double object can only be effected by such a construction of the Constitution as will leave to Congress the exclusive power of legislation on the subject. Prior to the adoption of the Federal Constitution, legislative acts in favour of valuable discoveries and improvements had been passed in several of the states; but their efficacy being confined to the limits of those states, the privileges thus secured were of little value; and, whatever they were worth, all these state enactments ceased as soon as the Federal Constitution was adopted. For greater caution, however, it was provided, in one of the first acts of the National Legislature, that the applicant for the benefit of the protection of Congress should surrender his right under the state law, and that his obtaining a patent under the laws of the United States should be evidence of such surrender.

An important and protracted controversy, nev. ertheless, arose in the State of New-York as to the nature and extent of the power in question, which occupied, at different times, the attention both of the Legislature and courts for several years before it was happily set at rest by the Supreme Court of the United States—not by an ex. press construction of this particular power, but by a series of decisions upon analogous cases involving similar principles, and bearing in one case on the subject itself. I refer to the case of Livingston and Van Ingen, in which the question arose as to the validity of the grant made by the Legislature of New York to certain individuals, of the exclusive right of navigating its waters with boats propelled by means of fire or steam. * Before the adoption of the present Constitution, an act was passed by the Legislature of that state granting and securing to one John Fitch “ the sole right and advantage of employing the STEAMBOAT by him lately invented,” and investing him and his representatives “ with the exclusive right and privilege of navigating all kinds of boats, propelled by the force of fire or steam, within all the waters within the territory and jurisdiction of” the State of New York, “ for the term of twenty years" from the passing of that act, in March, 1789. In March, 1798, nearly ten years subsequent to the ratification of the Fed. eral Constitution, and after Congress had passed that act, in execution of the power under discussion, which contains the provisions requiring the surrender by applicants under it of the state rights before granted to them, another act was passed by the Legislature of the same state, of which the preamble sets forth, “ that Robert R. Livingston had represented that he was possessed of a mode of apply. ing the steam-engine to propel a boat on new and advantageous principles ; but that he was deterred from carrying it into effect by the uncertainty and hazard of a very expensive experiment, unless he could be assured of an exclusive advantage from it should it be found successful ;” and that “ he was also deterred from the enterprise by the existence of the previous act in favour of Fitch, who was stated to be dead, or to have withdrawn from this state without having made any attempt to execute the plan for which he had obtained the exclusive privilege,” whereby it was alleged to have been justly forfeited ; it was “therefore enacted that privileges similar to those granted to John Fitch” should be extended to Mr. Livingston and his representatives, for the term of twenty years, upon condition that he should, with

* 10 Wheat., 466.


in one year, build a boat to be propelled by fire or steam," the mean rate of whose progress should not be less than four miles an hour ; and that he should at no time omit, for the space of one year, to have a boat,” of a certain construction,“plying between the cities of New-York and Albany.'

These conditions not having been performed within the period specified, the time for fulfilling them was repeatedly enlarged by successive acts of the Legislature for the purpose. One of these, passed after the former ones had expired, revived the privileges granted by them in favour of Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton. In the year 1807, the proof required of performance of the first condition of the grant was duly exhibited, and a boat propelled by steam, at the rate of more than four miles an hour, began to “ply between the cities of New-York and Albany,” in pursuance of the second. Other boats were subsequently built by the grantees of the state, and after they had continued for some years in successful operation, rival boats, propelled in the same manner, were established, in defiance of the state grant, both on the Hudson River and on Lake Champlain, by persons denying its validity. Application for redress was speedily made by Messrs. Livingston and Fulton to the state courts of New York, and the question presented was, whether the grant made to them by the Legislature was not absolutely void, as made in contravention of the powers of Congress to promote the progress of science and the arts, and to regulate commerce. It was decided in the Court of Chancery that the state grant was void on the ground alleged; but on an appeal to the Court of Errors and Appeals, that decision was overruled, and it was declared by this tribunal of the last resort in the state, that the grant was not absolutely void, on two dis

tinct grounds, viz.: that, considering Messrs. Liv. ingston and Fulton as inventors, the state had a con current power with Congress to reward them as such, by the grant of exclusive privileges to be exercised within its jurisdiction; and, secondly, that, considering them merely as the possessors and importers of a foreign invention, the state had an independent power to reward them for the introduction of such invention into beneficial use upon its waters--a power not ceded to Congess at all. It was observed, however, by one of the judges, that “if the opposite party could have shown a right by patent from the United States, as inventors, they must have prevailed, and the state law would have given way to the superior power cf Congress." For it must be borne in mind that the opponents of Messrs. Livingston and Fulton claimed no right or title whatsoever, either under a patent or coasting license; and for aught that appeared, their mode of applying the steam-engine in the navigation of their boats might be, as in fact it was, the same which had been introduced by the grantees of the state.*

After notice of an appeal, on the part of their adversaries, to the Supreme Court of the United States, Messrs. Livingston and Fulton offered terms of compromise which were too advantageous to be refused by the other side, and, consequently, these questions were not then carried up to the Federal Court; and in the subsequent case,t referred to in a former lecture, the question respecting the nature and effect of the power to promote the progress of science and the arts did not arise. That case turned wholly upon the collision between the exclusive privilege granted by the State Legislature and the power of Congress


* John. Rep., 557.

+ 10 Wheat., 446

« AnteriorContinua »