Trade-Mark Cases

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In re Trade-Mark Cases
Argued October 22, 1879,
Decided November 17, 1879,
Full case nameUnited States v. Steffens; United States v. Wittemann; United States v. Johnson
Docket no.705
Citations100 U.S. 82 (more)
25 L. Ed. 550; 1879 U.S. LEXIS 1808
The Copyright Clause of the Constitution does not give Congress power to protect or regulate trademarks.
Case opinion
MajorityMiller, joined by Clifford, Swayne, Field, Strong, Bradley, Hunt, Waite, Harlan
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. I, Sect. 8, Cl. 8

The Trade-Mark Cases, 100 U.S. 82 (1879), were a set of three cases consolidated into a single appeal before the United States Supreme Court, which in 1879 unanimously[1] ruled that the Copyright Clause of the Constitution gave Congress no power to protect or regulate trademarks.[2] Congress then passed the Trade Mark Act of 1881, which was based on the Commerce Clause power, and therefore passed constitutional muster.

The three cases were United States v. Steffens, United States v. Wittemann, and United States v. Johnson. Steffens and Wittemann dealt with alleged counterfeiting of marks associated with champagne, while Johnson dealt with alleged counterfeiting of a mark associated with whiskey.

The opinion was written by Justice Samuel Freeman Miller.

The Court did not exclude all possibility of Congress regulating trademarks. Congress, however, read the decision very strictly and in a new trademark law enacted in 1881 regulated only trademarks used in commerce with foreign nations, and with the Indian tribes, areas specified under the Commerce Clause. It was not until 1905 that Congress would again enact a trademark law generally governing marks in use in the United States, though the 1905 act was also carefully worded to fall within the Commerce Clause.


  1. ^ "TRADE-MARK CASES.; UNITED STATES v. STEFFENS". The Supreme Court Database. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  2. ^ Trade-Mark Cases, 100 U.S. 82 (1879).

External links[edit]