At issue in Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, a case the Supreme Court ruled on today, is a 51-year-old precedent that says royalty payments do not need to be made after a patent has expired. By a 6–3 vote, the court decided to uphold the precedent, ruling against an inventor who’s made $6 million by licensing his Spider-Man web-shooting invention to Marvel. This is the kind of decision the general public usually doesn’t really hear about because it’s really boring. But Justice Elena Kagan, a noted comic-book fan whose favorite movie is The Avengers, has prevented Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment from relegation to wonky legal blogs by sprinkling the decision with Spider-Man nods and superhero references. We read it and collected them below.
“The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can).”
“Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time.”
“As against this superpowered form of stare decisis, we would need a superspecial justification to warrant reversing Brulotte.”
“To the contrary, the decision’s close relation to a whole web of precedents means that reversing it could threaten others.”
“What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: ‘SpiderMan,’ p. 13 (1962) (’[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility’).”