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Manhattan Medicine Co. v. Wood

Supreme Court of the United States

April 2, 1883, Decided

No Number in Original


 [*221]   [**438]   [***707]  MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the court. After reciting the facts as stated above, he said:

 [*222]  In the view we take of the case, it will not be necessary to consider the first defence mentioned, nor the second, so far as to determine whether the right to use the words mentioned as a trade-mark was forfeited absolutely by the assignor's misrepresentations as to the manufacture of the article. It is sufficient for the disposition of the case, that the misrepresentation has been continued by the complainant. ] A court of equity will extend no aid to sustain a claim to a trade-mark of an article which is put forth with a misrepresentation to the public as to the manufacturer of the article, and as to the place where it is manufactured, both of which particulars were originally circumstances to guide the purchaser of the medicine.

It is admitted that whatever value the medicine [****9]  possesses was given to it by its original manufacturer, Moses Atwood. He lived in Georgetown, Massachusetts. He manufactured the medicine there. He sold it with the designation that it was his preparation, "Atwood's Vegetable Physical Jaundice Bitters," and was manufactured there by him. As the medicine was tried and proved to be useful, it was sought for under that designation, and that purchasers might not be misled, it was always accompanied with a label, showing by whom and  [***708]  at what place it was prepared. These statements were deemed important in promoting the use of the article and its sale, or they would not have been continued by the assignees of the original inventor. And yet they could not be used with any honest purpose when both statements had ceased to be true. It is not honest to state that a medicine is manufactured by Moses Atwood, of Georgetown, Massachusetts, when it is manufactured by the Manhattan Medicine Company in the city of New York.

 [**439]  ] Any one has an unquestionable right to affix to articles manufactured by him a mark or device not previously appropriated, to distinguish them from articles of the same general character manufactured [****10]  or sold by others. He may thus notify the public of the origin of the article and secure to himself the benefits of any particular excellence it may possess from the manner or materials of its manufacture. His trade-mark is both a sign of the quality of the article and an assurance  [*223]  to the public that it is the genuine product of his manufacture. It thus often becomes of great value to him, and in its exclusive use the court will protect him against attempts of others to pass off their products upon the public as his. This protection is afforded not only as a matter of justice to him, but to prevent imposition upon the public. Manufacturing Co. v. Trainer, 101 U.S. 51.

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108 U.S. 218 *; 2 S. Ct. 436 **; 27 L. Ed. 706 ***; 1883 U.S. LEXIS 1027 ****



Bill in equity to restrain the defendants from using an alleged trade-mark of the complainant, upon certain medicines prepared by them, and to compel an accounting for the profits made from its use in their sale of the medicines; also, the payment of damages for their infringement of the complainant's rights.

The complainant, a corporation formed under the laws of New York, manufactured in that State medicines designated as "Atwood's Vegetable Physical Jaundice Bitters;" and claimed as its trade-mark this designation, with the accompanying labels. Whatever right it possessed it derived by various mesne assignments from one Moses Atwood, of Georgetown, Massachusetts. The bill alleged that the complainant was, and for a long time previous to the grievances complained of had been the manufacturer and vender of the medicine mentioned; that it was put up and sold in glass bottles with twelve panel, shaped sides, on five of which in raised words and letters "Atwood's Genuine Physical Jaundice Bitters, Georgetown, Mass." were blown in the glass, each bottle containing about a pint, with a light yellow printed [****2]  label pasted on the outside designating the many virtues of the medicine, and the manner in which it was to be taken; and stating that it was manufactured by Moses Atwood, Georgetown, Mass., and sold by his agents throughout the United States.

The bill also alleged that the bottles thus filled and labelled were put up in half-dozen packages with the same label on each package; that the medicine was first invented and put up for sale about twenty-five years ago by one Dr. Moses Atwood, formerly of Georgetown, Massachusetts, by whom and his assigns and successors, it had been ever since sold "by the name, and in the manner, and with the trade-marks, label, and description substantially the same as aforesaid;" that the complainant was the exclusive owner of the formula and recipe for making the medicine, and of the right of using the said name or designation, together with the trade-marks, labels, and good will of the business of making and selling the same; that large sales of the medicine under that name and designation were made, amounting annually to twelve thousand bottles; that the defendants were manufacturing and selling at Portland, Me., and at other places within the United [****3]  States unknown to the complainant, an imitation of the medicine, with the same designation and labels, and put up in similar bottles, with the same, or nearly the same, words raised on their sides, in fraud of the rights of the complainant and to its serious injury; that this imitation article was calculated and was intended to deceive purchasers, and to mislead them to use it instead of the genuine article manufactured by the complainant, and had had, and continued to have, that effect. The bill, therefore, prayed for an injunction to restrain the defendants from affixing or applying the words "Atwood's Vegetable Physical Jaundice Bitters," or either of them, or any imitation thereof, to any medicine sold by them, or to place them on any bottles in which it was put up, and also, from using any labels in imitation of those of the complainant. It also prayed for an accounting of profits and for damages.

Among the defences interposed were these: that Moses Atwood never claimed any trade-mark of the words used in connection with the medicine manufactured and sold by him; and assuming that he had claimed the words used as a trade-mark, and that the right to use them had been transferred [****4]  to the assignors of the complainant, it was forfeited by the misrepresentation as to the manufacture of the medicine on the labels accompanying it, a misrepresentation continued by the complainant.

The cause was heard before Clifford, J., and the bill was dismissed with costs. From this decree the plaintiffs appealed.


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Trademark Law, Trademark Cancellation & Establishment, Conveyances, General Overview, Likelihood of Confusion, Consumer Confusion, Business & Corporate Compliance, Federal Unfair Competition Law, False Designation of Origin, Palming Off, Trademark Enforcement by US Customs, Commercial Use, Similarity of Marks, Appearance, Meaning & Sound, Priority, Remedies, Equitable Relief, Subject Matter of Trademarks, Labels, Packaging & Trade Dress, Counterfeiting, Trademark Counterfeiting Act, Civil Procedure, Equity, Maxims, Infringement Actions, Defenses, Preliminary Considerations, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Affirmative Defenses, Unclean Hands