Technical Tape Corp. v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., 70

Decision Date18 December 1952
Docket NumberDocket 22462.,No. 70,70
Citation200 F.2d 876
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Joseph Hirschman, New York City, Curtis, Morris & Safford, New York City, Daniel L. Morris, New York City, of counsel, for plaintiff-appellant.

Newton A. Burgess, (of Burgess, Ryan & Hicks), New York City, Harold J. Kinney, St. Paul, Minn., M. K. Hobbs, Platteville, Wis., and H. H. Hamilton, New York City, of counsel, for defendant-appellee.

Before AUGUSTUS N. HAND, CHASE, and CLARK, Circuit Judges.

AUGUSTUS N. HAND, Circuit Judge.

This is an action brought on November 17, 1951, under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, to have the defendant's patent declared invalid, or, if valid, then not infringed. The court below dismissed the complaint, holding that no justiciable controversy was stated upon which a claim for relief could be founded, and further indicated that dismissal was also required since one of the two grounds for jurisdiction, which were alleged disjunctively, was insufficient. We think that neither ground for dismissal was correct, and that the motion by the plaintiff for leave to file an amended complaint should have been granted.

The patent involved in this suit relates to pressure sensitive adhesive tapes having a non-fibrous, film backing and a surface layer of pressure sensitive adhesive. The defendant markets such tape under the brand name of "Scotch" tape.

From the affidavits submitted to the district court it appears that about two years prior to the institution of this action an application by the plaintiff, Technical Tape Corporation, for a license from the defendant, Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company, was denied with a warning that if Technical Tape Corporation made the tape as it contemplated it would face a highly expensive lawsuit. On October 25, 1951 the defendant's executive vice-president called at the plaintiff's office and was handed a roll of tape. The plaintiff's affidavits contend that the defendant's officer asserted it to be an infringement and that the plaintiff would be given the "toughest fight it ever saw" on such tape. There is some dispute as to whether the plaintiff had manufactured tape prior to this interview. But a pilot run in May 1951 at its laboratory had yielded a commercially satisfactory tape, and the tape exhibited at the meeting had been imported from a Canadian affiliate. It does not seem to be disputed that the manufacture of small quantities had begun prior to the commencement of this action. The plaintiff further asserted in its affidavits that its sales had met with resistance because of its prospective customers' fear of action by the defendant, and that it had been forced to give many distributors a written promise that it would undertake the defense of any action for infringement against them. The defendant's successful prosecution of suits against other infringers of its patent was also established. The decisions, sustaining the patent, were affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co. v. International Plastic Corp., 159 F.2d 554.

Following the dismissal of the complaint by Judge Clancy, the plaintiff moved for reargument and for leave to file an amendment to the complaint. Further affidavits, citing specific instances of guarantees by the plaintiff to its customers necessitated by the defendant's actions were submitted at this time. However, all of such instances occurred subsequent to the date of the filing of the original complaint. The district court denied leave to file the amendment on the ground that the plaintiff was attempting to assert a supplemental pleading, and it could not do this where the original complaint was defective, as Judge Clancy had held it to be. Bonner v. Elizabeth Arden, Inc., 2 Cir., 177 F.2d 703. In September 1952 after it had secured the dismissal of the complaint in the present action, Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. brought suit in Chicago against Technical Tape and one of its distributors for infringement of the identical patent, and also commenced a suit in Kansas City against a company handling plaintiff's tape.

Even assuming that one of the disjunctive allegations1 of jurisdiction was insufficient while the other was not, Rule 8(e)2 of the Federal Rules, 28 U.S.C.A., contemplates such alternative allegations, and provides that no dismissal is to be granted if one of them is sufficient. See 2 Moore's Federal Practice (2d edition), 1706. Keene Lumber Co. v. Leventhal, 1 Cir., 165 F.2d 815, relied on by the district court is not to the contrary, for in that case there was no jurisdiction under either of the alternative grounds that were alleged. Further, if the pleading was defective the requested amendment2 should have been allowed in order to cure the defect. Although the affidavits submitted on the reargument in an endeavor to satisfy the requirement of a justiciable controversy referred to events subsequent to the filing of the complaint, the amendment itself did not, and hence was clearly not a supplemental pleading.

Taking the plaintiff's allegations in the complaint and affidavits as true, as we must do, we think that there is an issue of fact as to whether an actual controversy existed at the time the complaint was filed, as required by Ætna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240-241, 57 S.Ct. 461, 81 L.Ed. 617, before a declaratory judgment action may be brought.

Once the patentee has made some claim, directly or indirectly, so that notice is given that it asserts that there is or will be an infringement, a justiciable controversy exists, entitling the alleged infringer to seek declaratory relief. Treemond Co. v. Schering Corp., 3 Cir., 122 F.2d 702; Dewey & Almy Chemical Co. v. American Anode, Inc., 3 Cir., 137 F.2d 68, certiorari denied 320 U.S. 761, 64 S.Ct. 70, 88 L.Ed. 454. It is not clear whether the plaintiff had sufficiently embarked on its infringing action to establish an actual controversy at the time the defendant threatened suit two years prior to the commencement of this action. If this threat was not sufficient, it was followed on October 25, 1951, by a claim of infringement and the further threat of suit. It is argued by the defendant that if the plaintiff had not begun manufacture of its tapes at the time of the interview on October 25 there could be no justiciable controversy. But at that time it had already conducted a pilot run and had imported tape manufactured by its Canadian affiliate. Further, manufacture did begin before suit was brought. Under these circumstances we think that there were sufficient acts and contemplated acts of infringement to create a controversy when the threats were made. Moreover, where there is such an evident intention to market a product and preparation of the means to do...

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