United States v. Du Pont De Nemours and Co

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation76 S.Ct. 994,100 L.Ed. 1264,351 U.S. 377
Docket NumberNo. 5,5
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. E. I. DU PONT DE NEMOURS AND CO
Decision Date11 June 1956

Mr.Charles H. Weston, Washington, D.C., for appellant.

Mr. Gerhard A. Gesell, Washington, D.C., for appellee.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States brought this civil action under § 4 of the Sherman Act against E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. The complaint, filed December 13, 1947, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, charged du Pont with monopolizing, attempting to monopolize and conspiracy to monopolize interstate commerce in cellophane and cellulosic caps and bands in violation of § 2 of the Sherman Act. Relief by injunction was sought against defendant and its officers, forbidding monopolizing or attempting to monopolize interstate trade in cellophane. The prayer also sought action to dissipate the effect of the monopolization by divestiture or other steps. On defendant's motion under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), 28 U.S.C.A. § 1404(a), the case was transferred to the District of

Delaware. After a lengthy trial, judgment was entered for du Pont on all issues.1

The Government's direct appeal here does not contest the findings that relate to caps and bands, nor does it raise any issue concerning the alleged attempt to monopolize or conspiracy to monopolize interstate commerce in cellophane. The appeal, as specifically stated by the Government, 'attacks only the ruling that du Pont has not monopolized trade in cellophane.' At issue for determination is only this alleged violation by du Pont of § 2 of the Sherman Act.2

During the period that is relevant to this action, du Pont produced almost 75% of the cellophane sold in the United States, and cellophane constituted less than 20% of all 'flexible packaging material' sales. This was the designation accepted at the trial for the materials listed in Finding 280, Appendix A, this opinion, 76 S.Ct. 1012.

The Government contends that, by so dominating cellophane production, du Pont monopolized a 'part of the trade or commerce' in violation of § 2. Respondent agrees that cellophane is a product which constitutes 'a 'part' of commerce within the meaning of Section 2.' Du Pont brief, pp. 16, 79. But it contends that the prohibition of § 2 against monopolization is not violated because it does not have the power to control the price of cellophane or to exclude competitors from the market in which cellophane is sold. The court below found that the 'relevant market for determining the extent of du Pont's market control is the market for flexible packaging materials,' and that competition from those other materials prevented du Pont from possessing monopoly powers in its sales of cellophane. Finding 37.

The Government asserts that cellophane and other wrapping materials are neither substantially fungible nor like priced. For these reasons, it argues that the market for other wrappings is distinct from the market for cellophane and that the competition afforded cellophane by other wrappings is not strong enough to be considered in determining whether du Pont has monopoly powers. Market delimitation is necessary under du Pont's theory to determine whether an alleged monopolist violates § 2. The ultimate consideration is such a determination is whether the defendants control the price and competition in the market for such part of trade or commerce as they are charged with monopolizing. Every manufacturer is the sole producer of the particular commodity it makes but its control in the above sense of the relevant market depends upon the availability of alternative commodities for buyers: i.e., whether there is a cross-elasticity of demand between cellophane and the other wrappings. This interchangeability is largely gauged by the purchase of competing products for similar uses considering the price, characteristics and adaptability of the

competing commodities. The court below found that the flexible wrappings afforded such alternatives. This Court must determine whether the trial court erred in its estimate of the competition afforded cellophane by other materials.

The burden of proof, of course, was upon the Government to establish monopoly. See United States v. Aluminum Co. of America, 2 Cir., 148 F.2d 416, 423, 427. This the trial court held the Government failed to do, upon findings of fact and law stated at length by that court. For the United States to succeed in this Court now, it must show that erroneous legal tests were applied to essential findings of fact or that the findings themselves were 'clearly erroneous' within our rulings on Rule 52(a) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A. See United States v. UnitedStates Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 393—395, 68 S.Ct. 525, 541, 92 L.Ed. 746. We do not try the facts of cases de novo. Timken Roller Bearing Co. v. United States, 341 U.S. 593, 597, 71 S.Ct. 971, 974, 95 L.Ed. 1199.3

Two additional questions were raised in the record and decided by the court below. That court found that, even if du Pont did possess monopoly power over sales of cellophane, it was not subject to Sherman Act prosecution, because (1) the acquisition of that power was protected by patents, and (2) that power was acquired solely through du Pont's business expertness. It was thrust upon du Pont. 118 F.Supp. at pages 213—218.

Since the Government specifically excludes attempts and conspiracies to monopolize from consideration, a conclusion that du Pont has no monopoly power would obviate examination of these last two issues.

I. Factual Background.—For consideration of the issue as to monopolization, a general summary of the development of cellophane is useful.

In the early 1900's, Jacques Brandenberger, a Swiss chemist, attempted to make tablecloths impervious to dirt by spraying them with liquid viscose (a cellulose solution available in quantity from wood pulp, Finding 361) and by coagulating this coating. His idea failed, but he noted that the coating peeled off in a transparent film. This first 'cellophane' was thick, hard, and not perfectly transparent, but Brandenberger apparently foresaw commercial possibilities in his discovery. By 1908 he developed the first machine for the manufacture of transparent sheets of regenerated cellulose. The 1908 product was not satisfactory, but by 1912 Brandenberger was making a saleable thin flexible film used in gas masks. He obtained patents to cover the machinery and the essential ideas of his process.

It seems to be agreed, however, that the disclosures of these early patents were not sufficient to make possible the manufacture of commercial cellophane. The inadequacy of the patents is partially attributed to the fact that the essential machine (the Hopper) was improved after it was patented. But more significant was the failure of these patents to disclose the actual technique of the process. This technique included the operational data acquired by experimentation.4

In 1917 Brandenberger assigned his patents to La Cellophane Societe Anonyme and joined that organization.

Thereafter developments in the production of cellophane somewhat paralleled those taking place in artificial textiles. Chemical science furnished the knowledge for perfecting the new products. The success of the artificial products has been enormous. Du Pont was an American leader in the field of synthetics and learned of cellophane's successes through an associate, Comptoir des Textiles Artificiel.

In 1923 du Pont organized with La Cellophane an American company for the manufacture of plain cellophane. The undisputed findings are that:

'On December 26, 1923, an agreement was executed between duPont Cellophane Company and La Cellophane by which La Cellophane licensed duPont Cellophane Company exclusively under its United States cellophane patents, and granted duPont Cellophane Company the exclusive right to make and sell in North and Central America under La Cellophane's secret processes for cellophane manufacture. DuPont Cellophane Company granted to La Cellophane exclusive rights for the rest of the world under any cellophane patents or processes duPont Cellophane Company might develop.' Finding 24.

Subsequently du Pont and La Cellophane licensed several foreign companies, allowing them to manufacture and vend cellophane in limited areas. Finding 601. Technical exchange agreements with these companies were entered into at the same time. However, in 1940, du Pont notified these foreign companies that sales might be made in any country,5 and by 1948 all the technical exchange agreements were canceled.

Sylvania, and American affiliate of a Belgian producer of cellophane not covered by the license agreements above referred to, began the manufacture of cellophane in the United States in 1930. Litigation between the French and Belgian companies resulted in a settlement whereby La Cellophane came to have a stock interest in Sylvania, contrary to the La Cellophane-du Pont agreement. This resulted in adjustments as compensation for the intrusion into United States of La Cellophane that extended du Pont's limited territory. The details do not here seem important. Since 1934 Sylvania has produced about 25% of United States cellophane.

An important factor in the growth of cellophane production and sales was the perfection of moistureproof cellophane, a superior product of du Pont research and patented by that company through a 1927 application. Plain cellophane has little resistance to the passage of moisture vapor. Moistureproof cellophane has a composition added which keeps moisture in and out of the packed commodity. This patented type of cellophane has had a demand with much more rapid growth than the plain.

In 1931 Sylvania began the manufacture of moistureproof cellophane under its own patents. After negotiations over patent rights, du Pont in 1933 licensed Sylvania to manufacture and sell...

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