277 U.S. 142 (1928), Long v. Rockwood

Citation:277 U.S. 142, 48 S.Ct. 463, 72 L.Ed. 824
Party Name:Long v. Rockwood
Case Date:May 14, 1928
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 142

277 U.S. 142 (1928)

48 S.Ct. 463, 72 L.Ed. 824




United States Supreme Court

May 14, 1928




A state may not tax the income received by one of her citizens as royalties for the use of patents issued to him by the United States. P. 145.

257 Mass. 572 affirmed.

Certiorari, 274 U.S. 729-730, to judgments of the Superior Court of Massachusetts abating taxes, entered on rescripts from the Supreme Judicial Court. The judgments were recovered by Rockwood in actions against Long, Commissioner of Corporations and Taxation of the Commonwealth.

Page 145

MCREYNOLDS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

These causes present the question whether the State of Massachusetts may tax, as income, royalties received by one of her citizens for the use of patents issued to him by the United States. The Supreme Judicial Court of that state held such an imposition would amount to a tax upon the patent right itself, and was prohibited by the federal Constitution. 257 Mass. 572, 154 N.E. 182. We agree with that conclusion.

The Constitution (Art. I, § 8) empowers Congress

to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times [48 S.Ct. 464] to authors and inventors the

Page 146

exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. . . .

The first Congress provided for issuance, in the name of the United States, of letters patent granting

for any term not exceeding fourteen years, the sole and exclusive right and liberty of making, constructing, using and vending to others to be used, the said invention or discovery. . . .

Act April 10, 1790, § 1, c. 7, 1 Stat. 110.

Chap. 230, Act July 8, 1870, 16 Stat. 201 (R.S. § 4884; § 40, Title 35, U.S.Code):

Sec. 22. And be it further enacted, that every patent shall contain a short title or description of the invention or discovery, correctly indicating its nature and design, and a grant to the patentee, his heirs or assigns, for the term of seventeen years, of the exclusive right to make, use, and vend the said invention or discovery throughout the United States and the territories thereof. . . .

Chief Justice Marshall, speaking for the Court in Grant v. Raymond, 6 Pet. 220, 241-242, stated the general purpose for which patents issue:

To promote the progress of useful arts is the interest and policy of every englightened government. . . . The subject was among the first which followed the organization of our government. It was taken up by the first congress. . . . The amendatory act of 1793 contains the same language, and it cannot be doubted that the settled purpose of the United States has ever been, and continues to be, to confer on the authors of useful inventions an exclusive right in their inventions for the time mentioned in their patent. It is the reward stipulated for the advantages derived by the public for the exertions of the individual, and is intended as a stimulus to those exertions. The laws which are passed to give effect to this...

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