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Cheney Bros. v. Doris Silk Corp

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Cheney Brothers (Plaintiff), sought to enjoin the Defendant, Doris Silk Corporation (Defendant), from copying its dress designs during the season.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. In absence of some recognized right at common law, or under a statute, a man’s property right is limited to the actual chattels that embody his invention.

    Facts. The Plaintiff, a manufacturer of silk, puts out many new patterns each year. Most patterns have a life of only a season, making it impossible to obtain a copyright or secure design patents. The Defendant copied one of the Plaintiff’s most popular designs and undercut the price. The Plaintiff sued the Defendant for damages and equitable relief under property law. The trial court dismissed the Plaintiff’s action and the Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Does Plaintiff, absent a common law right or statute, have a property right sufficient to prevent another from copying its chattel?

    Held. No. Because the Plaintiff could not secure a copyright or a patent on its patterns, the Plaintiff could not recover as a result of the Defendant’s copying. Since no statutory authority promulgated pursuant to the patent or copyright law existed to protect the Plaintiff’s pattern, the Plaintiff’s property is limited to the tangible objects embodying his invention. Thus, although the Defendant copied the Plaintiff’s patterns the imitation is not actionable.

    Discussion. Since there is no common law copyright law, the Plaintiff’s property right is limited to chattels that embody the invention, not the design pattern that has a short life. The Plaintiff has no property right to prevent any imitation of it. The United States Constitution (Constitution) confers only Congress the power to create this right, not the court.


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