Cases of Interest: Cheney Brothers v. Doris Silk Corp

Case(s): Cheney Brothers v. Doris Silk Corp., 35 F.2d 279, U.S. App. (1929).

Facts: Cheney Brothers (“Cheney”) manufactured seasonal silks in various patterns, releasing an array of designs each year. Even commercially successful patterns did not last more than 8 or 9 months on the market. Copyright and patent laws made it impractical for Cheney to register and protect each print it produced every year. Doris Silk Corp. (“Doris Silk”) copied one of Cheney’s successful prints and made it available for less than Cheney’s price.

Cheney sought to enjoin Doris Silk from copying its dress designs during the season. The trial court denied the injunction, and Cheney appealed the decision of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, in which the court found in favor of Doris Silk, holding that Cheney’s design had not been copyrighted.

United States Court of Appeals for Second Circuit

The Court of Appeals held that because the Cheney could not secure a copyright or a patent on its patterns, he could not recover as a result of Doris Silk’s copying. Since statutory authority pursuant to the patent or copyright law existed to protect Cheney’s pattern, the court held that his property rights were limited to the tangible objects embodying his invention. Thus, although Doris Silk was found to have copied Cheney’s patterns, the copying did not give rise to legal action against Doris Silk.