Erudite Commentaries on the Stanley Rule & Level Co. v Leonard Bailey court cases, including what may be the sign off of the year: "Bugger the law and back to Oldtools!"


My 2 cents: (I'm an attorney, so this is getting to be way too much like my day job).

It seems to me that the case about the overpayment of royalties is really just a breach of contract claim, and even today could be raised in state court.  It also makes Bailey look at least a little dishonest.  Even if his counsel was completely outclassed, the issues are fairly simple: 1) did the patents expire, and 2) did he get paid anyhow.  His defense seems to have been that Stanley had a duty to look out for themselves, and if he got the money, he could keep it.  That has never been a very strong argument in the Anglo-American judicial tradition.

The other case raises some more questions in my mind.  Matt is correct--  these are federal, not state issues, and it leads one to wonder why they ended up in state court where Stanley (as a local economic powerhouse) and their high priced counsel (an assumption, but not a big one) would likely have more influence.  I don't know how well developed the doctrine of preemption (which today would force these issues to be litigated in federal court) was in the 1870s, and am not inclined to research it since I have a few more current issues to deal with.  Even if the federal courts did have exclusive jurisdiction, Bailey's lawyers would have to raise that issue. This is the type of thing where paying big bucks for representation tends to pay off, and may be an indication that Bailey was outspent.  The infringement case looks a lot more like Stanley reaching out to crush someone.

I've practiced law for 18 years, and have learned a few (but not very many) things.  One is that relying on court pleadings to learn what actually happened, especially at the appellate level, which these pleadings are, is a lot like relying on Ozzie & Harriet  reruns to get an accurate picture of 1950s family life.  In court, everything tends to be presenteed in terms of black and white with reality occupying the muddy gray area in between. Based on what Gary posted, I'd guess that Bailey was not quite the downtrodden little guy he's been portrayed to be.  He seems to have played the game a little close to the line, and had the misfortune to pick a ruthless behemouth as an opponent.

Mine for what it's worth,

Ernest Shaver


The January, 1878 case seemed straight-forward enough.  Len was paid money by Stanley to which he really was not entitled under the

contract subsisting between them.  He did not have much of a defence to the claim against him and was obliged to draw a bit of a long legal bow in his submission to the court that Stanley had constructive knowledge of the circumstance of the lapse or expiration of the patent (Stanley could have made inquiries from the Patents' Office) but continued to make royalty payments to him, thereby acknowledging that the true construction of the contract was that full payments originally to be made under the contract would continue until the last of several patents expired.  Quite rightly, this did not wash with His Honour, Mr Chief Justice Park, and his concurring brethren who confirmed the judgment of Mr Justice McManus at first instance.  I'd tend to characterize Len's defence as one simply set up to postpone the inevitable, particularly as he saw fit to take the matter on appeal.  There may have been an order for a stay of execution of the judgment at first instance pending the outcome of the appeal.  This sort of thing sometimes confers some sort of commercial advantage to the desperate defendant, particularly in circumstances where, as seems to have been the case here, no interest was claimed by Stanley on damages from the date of the commencement of proceedings.  Traditionally, interest was not payable to a plaintiff on his damages at common law and payable in debt only when the contract through which the debt arose specifically provided for the payment of interest on the unpaid debt. It was not until 1867 that the then relatively recent U.K legislation concerning the payment of interest on damages was adopted in Queensland and in the absence of such legislation the old common law rule that no interest was payable may have prevailed in Connecticut.  It would therefore have been to Len's advantage to retain the use of the money overpaid to him for as long as possible as no adverse consequences to him appeared to flow from his so doing.  No order that Len should pay Stanley's costs of the appeal appears to have been made and it is understood that it was then rare in the U.S. for orders to be made against unsuccessful litigants that they should pay the successful party's costs.  It seems, from the June, 1878 case, that the Bailey plane was not amongst those items whose patents had expired, thus giving rise to this case, as it is stated in the later case concerning the plane that Len received a reissue of the letters patent concerning it in 1875.  However, because of the lack of particulars of the evidence adduced contained in the appeal court's judgement, this may be an incorrect assumption.

There has been raised concerning the June, 1978 case the question of whether the Circuit Court for the District of Connecticut had jurisdiction to try a patent matter.  I have no familiarity with the structure of the state and federal judicial systems in the U.S. and assume from the query that the Circuit Court for the District of Connecticut was a state and not a federal court.  It may be worth observing that, after the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 whereby a federal system was established, the only federal court for many years was the High Court of Australia, essentially an appeal court required to exercise its original jurisdiction only in constitutional matters.   All other matters wherein the Parliament of the Commonwealth had sole power to legislate, such as in the matter of currency offences, were dealt with by the state courts at all levels under delegated authority from the Commonwealth.  We also had a system whereby, in some matters, the old state laws obtained until the Commonwealth chose to exercise its powers to legislate regarding a particular matter, whereafter litigation concerning these matters fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of federal courts which were, in fact, state courts exercising by delegation federal jurisdiction.  Perhaps something similar obtained in the U.S. at the time.  As there is no mention made in the June, 1878 case of the statute governing the law of patents, perhaps the patent law of Connecticut  still obtained or perhaps there had been conferred on the Circuit Court federal jurisdiction in such matters.  It is difficult to assume that the Circuit Court judge would recklessly or through sheer ignorance of the law entertain a case in which he had no jurisdiction, notwithstanding the legal incompetence of the advocates before him.  Even today I sometimes observe a tyro barrister who has attempted to institute proceedings in the wrong jurisdiction being sent packing with his ears ringing from the massive drubbing and humiliation he has received from the bench.  Judges sure know how to have fun, at times.  However, the Circuit Court gives direct consideration to the matter of its jurisdiction in the case and affirms that it has jurisdiction specifically on the grounds that a patent infringement has occurred.  Mr Justice Blatchford says: "This wrong is an infringement. Its redress involves a suit, therefore, arising under the patent laws, and of that suit the circuit court has jurisdiction".  This would seem to indicate either that he is a federal court judge or that he is exercising federal jurisdiction if the constitutional position is that the federal legislature has exclusive power to make laws concerning patents and has exercised that power.

The June, 1878 case appears to concern, in the main, a consideration of whether the Victor plane infringed the patents granted regarding the Bailey plane.  However, this consideration was given only after the court appeared to reach a fairly quick and not altogether satisfactory conclusion that the agreement between Bailey and Stanley conferred rights upon Stanley similar to those conferred upon an assignee of the patent, which clearly was not the effect of the agreement.  But then again, perhaps not. The court's equitable jurisdiction was invoked specifically, which would not have been necessary if Stanley was considered to be the holder at law of the patent, and a breach of trust was discerned from Bailey's actions, a finding inconsistent with Stanley's being the holder of the patent at law but consistent with a finding that Bailey held the lawful title to the patent but held it on trust for Stanley.  Somewhere in there it seems to have been found that Bailey was obliged by the rules of equity not to infringe his own patent an act, of course, which he was incapable at law of performing.  The standing achieved by Stanley in relation to the Bailey patent as necessarily found by the court is all a bit mysterious but the large, latter part of the judgment dealing with patent infringement seems to be dependent totally on some such finding. Can't help feeling that Bailey was bringing up sly side-issue points of law whilst the very substance of the case was overlooked by him and his advisers.

The "infringement" part of the judgment itself is quite interesting and appears to show that Bailey was somewhat hoist by his own petard.  His description of his patent for the Bailey plane was in relatively broad terms and he seems to have sought and obtained a patent for this plane for advancing and retracting the cutting iron by the application of mechanical force to the capiron this, apparently, being the novelty of the design. In other words, he patented for the Bailey plane all methods of advancing and retracting the cutting iron by applying force to the capiron when it was clamped to the cutting iron.  The court describes the invention, probably paraphrasing from the patent documents, as follows: "The invention consisted of the adjustment of the plane iron in the ordinary compound plane iron, by means of a lever and screw, or equivalent mechanism, which was positively connected with the cap iron at a point always the same, and acting upon the plane iron immediately through the cap plate thus connected with the lever." His Victor  plane contained a mechanism of advancing and retracting the cutting iron by applying mechanical force, if I read things correctly, to the head of the screw which held the capiron to the cutting iron.  This appears to have been found by the court to be an "equivalent mechanism" and by holding that the capiron screw was, in essence, part of the capiron.  The court appears to have been assisted by the evidence of expert witnesses called by Stanley in coming to its finding in this regard.

All in all, pretty interesting stuff, this dust-up between Bailey and Stanley.  One can only wish that the judgments in today's court cases were as concise as those of 1878.  Can't really see from reading the judgments that any injustice was done to Bailey. He had certainly been a bit naughty in "reverse engineering" his original invention for advancing and retracting plane irons and probably would have sued the arse off anyone else who had done the same thing. He did not seem to have a legal or moral leg to stand on by accepting royalty payments from Stanley in respect of patents which, to his own knowledge, had expired whilst he deliberately refrained from bringing this circumstance to Stanley's attention.

Now, bugger the law and back to OldTools.

Regards from Brisbane,

John Manners

RETURN to Leonard Bailey

LogoWebSite64

Toolemera Press

HOME

SHOP

FACEBOOK

BLOG

CONTACT

SITE MAP