Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Court rules against Spidey toy inventor
The inventor of a popular Spider-Man web-shooting toy can’t keep reeling in royalties from a patent that ran out, the Supreme Court ruled Monday
The justices ruled 6-3 against Stephen Kimble in his long-running dispute with Marvel Entertainment over a Web Blaster toy that shoots foam string from a glove.
Kimble sold his patent on the toy to Marvel in 2001 and has earned more than $6 million in royalties under terms of a settlement agreement. Once the patent expired in 2010, Marvel stopped making payments.
Kimble had urged the high court to overrule a halfcentury-old case that says a licensing agreement cannot pay royalties once a patent ends.
Kimble argued that the 1964 ruling in Brulotte v. Thys Co. relied on outdated and misguided assumptions and stifles competition. The case reasoned that an agreement to pay royalties after a patent expires would be an improper way to extend the life of the patent.
Critics say a licensing agreement doesn’t actually extend patent rights or prevent anyone else from using or selling a similar product.
But Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said the court is reluctant to overrule established precedent, a principle known as “stare decisis,” even if it means “sticking to some wrong decisions.”
“An argument that we got something wrong — even a good argument to that effect — cannot by itself justify scrapping settled precedent,” Kagan said. She said there was no “special justification” for overruling a case that has governed licensing agreements for more than 50 years. Marvel argued that Congress has declined to change the ruling’s impact on patent law, even as it has made other reforms to the law.