220 U.S. 373 (1911), 72, Dr. Miles Medical Company v. John D. Park & Sons Company

Docket Nº:No. 72
Citation:220 U.S. 373, 31 S.Ct. 376, 55 L.Ed. 502
Party Name:Dr. Miles Medical Company v. John D. Park & Sons Company
Case Date:April 03, 1911
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 373

220 U.S. 373 (1911)

31 S.Ct. 376, 55 L.Ed. 502

Dr. Miles Medical Company


John D. Park & Sons Company

No. 72

United States Supreme Court

April 3, 1911

Argued January 4, 5, 1911




An actionable wrong is committed by one who maliciously interferes with a contract between two parties and induces one of them to break the contract to the injury of the other, and in the absence of an adequate remedy at law equitable relief will be granted; but held, in this case, that plaintiffs were not entitled to relief as the contract under which they claimed was invalid.

A system of contracts between manufacturers and wholesale and retail merchants by which the manufacturers attempt to control not merely the prices at which its agents may sell its products, but the prices for all sales by all dealers at wholesale or retail, whether purchasers or subpurchasers, eliminating all competition and fixing the amount which the consumer shall pay, amounts to restraint of trade, and is invalid both at common law and, so far as it affects interstate commerce, under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of July 2, 1890, and so held as to the contracts involved in this case.

Such agreements are not excepted from the general rule and rendered valid because they relate to proprietary medicines manufactured under a secret process but not under letters patent; nor is a manufacturer entitled to control prices on all sales of his own products in restraint of trade.

The rights enjoyed by a patentee are derived from statutory grant under authority conferred by the Constitution, and are the reward received in exchange for advantages derived by the public after the period of protection has expired, and the rights of one not disclosing his secret process so as to secure a patent are outside of the policy of the patent laws, and must be determined by the legal principles applicable to the ownership of such process.

The protection of an unpatented process of manufacture does not necessarily apply to the sale of articles manufactured under the process.

A manufacturer of unpatented proprietary medicines stands on the same footing as to right to control the sale of his product as the manufacturers of other articles, and the fact that the article may

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have curative properties does not justify restrictions which are unlawful as to articles designed for other purposes.

A manufacturer of unpatented articles cannot, by rule or notice, in absence of statutory right, fix prices for future sales, even though the restriction be known to purchasers. Whatever rights the manufacturer may have in that respect must be by agreements that are lawful.

Although the earlier common law doctrine in regard to restraint of trade has been substantially modified, the public interest is still the first consideration; to sustain the restraint, it must be reasonable as to the public and parties and limited to what is reasonably necessary, under the circumstances, for the covenantee; otherwise, restraints are void as against public policy.

Agreements or combinations between dealers, having for their sole purpose the destruction of competition and fixing of prices, are injurious to the public interest and void; nor are they saved by advantages which the participants expect to derive from the enhanced price to the consumer.

161 F. 803 affirmed.

This is a writ of certiorari to review a judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which affirmed a judgment of the circuit court dismissing, on demurrer, the bill of complaint for want of equity. 164 F. 803.

The complainant, Dr. Miles Medical Company, an Indiana corporation, is engaged in the manufacture and sale of proprietary medicines, prepared by means of secret methods and formulas, and identified by distinctive packages, labels, and trademarks. It has established an extensive trade throughout the United States and in certain foreign countries. It has been its practice to sell its medicines to jobbers and wholesale druggists, who in turn sell to retail druggists for sale to the consumer. In the case of each remedy, it has fixed not only the price of its own sales to jobbers and wholesale dealers, but also the wholesale and retail prices. The bill alleged that most of its sales were made through retail druggists, and that the demand for its remedies largely depended upon their

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goodwill and commendation, and their ability to realize a fair profit; that certain retail establishments, particularly those known as department stores, had inaugurated a "cut-rate" or "cut-price" system which had caused "much confusion, trouble, and damage" to the complainant's business, and "injuriously affected the reputation" and "depleted the sales" of its remedies; that this injury resulted "from the fact that the majority of retail druggists as a rule cannot, or believe that they cannot, realize sufficient profits" by the sale of the medicines "at the cut-prices announced by the cut-rate and department stores," and therefore are "unwilling to, and do not keep" the medicines "in stock," or,

if kept in stock, do not urge or favor sales thereof, but endeavor to foist off some similar remedy or substitute, and from the fact that in the public mind an article advertised or announced at "cut" or "reduced" price from the established price suffers loss of reputation and becomes of inferior value and demand.

It was further alleged that, for the purpose of protecting "its trade sales and business" and of conserving "its goodwill and reputation," the complainant had established a method "of governing, regulating, and controlling the sale and marketing" of its remedies, which is thus described in the bill:

Contracts in writing were required to be executed by all jobbers and wholesale druggists to whom your orator sold its aforesaid remedies, medicines, and cures, of the following tenor and effect:

Consignment Contract -- Wholesale

The Dr. Miles Medical Company

This agreement made by and between The Dr. Miles Medical Company, a corporation, of Elkhart, Indiana, hereafter referred to as the Proprietor, and _____ _____ hereinafter referred to as the Consignee, witnesseth:

That the said Proprietor hereby appoints said Consignee

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one of its wholesale distributing agents, and agrees to consign to such Consignee for sale for the account of said Proprietor such goods of its manufacture as the Proprietor may deem necessary, the title thereto and property therein to be and remain in the Proprietor absolutely until sold under and in accordance with the provisions hereof, and all unsold goods to be immediately returned to said Proprietor on demand and the cancellation of this agreement. Said goods to be invoiced to Consignee [31 S.Ct. 377] at the following prices:

Medicines of which the retail price is $1.00, $8.00 per dozen.

Medicines (if any) of which the retail price is 50 cents, $4.00 per dozen.

Medicines of which the retail price is 25 cents, $2.00 per dozen.

Freight on all orders, the invoice price of which amounts to $100.00 or more, to be prepaid by the Proprietor; otherwise, freight to be paid by Consignee.

Said Consignee agrees to confine the sale of all goods and products of the said Proprietor strictly to, and to sell only to, the designated retail agents of said Proprietor as specified in lists of such retail agents furnished by said Proprietor and alterable at the will of said Proprietor, and to faithfully and promptly account and pay to the Proprietor the proceeds of all sales, after deducting as full compensation for all services, charges, and disbursements a commission of ten percent of the invoice value, and a further commission of five percent on the net amount of each consignment, after deducting the said ten percent commission on all advances on account remitted within ten days from date of any consignment, it being agreed between the parties hereto that such advances shall in no manner affect the title to such goods, which title shall remain in the Proprietor as if no such advances had been made; provided that such advances

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shall be repaid to said Consignee should the said Proprietor terminate this agreement and the return of any unsold goods on which advances have been made. Said Consignee guarantees the payment for all goods sold under this agreement, and agrees to render a full account and remit the net proceeds on the first day of each month of and for the sales of the month preceding. Failure to make such accounting and remittance within ten days from the first of each month shall render the whole account payable and subject to draft, but the proceeds of such draft shall not affect the title of any unsold goods, which shall remain in the Proprietor until actually sold, as herein provided.

It is further agreed that the Consignee shall furnish the Proprietor from time to time upon demand full statements of the stock of goods of the Proprietor on hand on any date specified, and that a failure to furnish such statements within ten days from date of such demand shall be a sufficient cause for the cancellation of this agreement, and a demand for the return of the consigned goods.

It is further agreed that the Proprietor will cause each retail package of its goods to be identified by a number, and said Consignee hereby agrees to furnish the said Proprietor full reports upon proper cards or blanks furnished by said Proprietor of the disposition of each dozen or fraction of such goods by means of the identifying numbers, specifying the names and addresses of the retail agents to whom such goods have been delivered and the dates of such delivery, and to send such reports to said Proprietor at least...

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