Earlier today Marvel Enterprises won a multi-decade long battle over a simple Spider-Man toy. The toy was called the Web Blaster. It’s pretty self explanatory, simply a Spidey glove with a web blasting mechanism attached. And the man behind the patent, Stephen Kimble has been in an almost 25-year long war with Marvel over the patent and his royalties. Well now, the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken, and ruled that Marvel doesn’t owe any royalties to the inventor of the toy after the patent expired.
It all started back in 1990 when Stephen Kimble patented his idea for the toy which mimicked Spider-Man’s web shooting abilities. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel soon after began manufacturing a similar toy, which initiated the first battle of the Web Blaster war. Kimble sued Marvel for patent infringement, and the two parties finally came to a settlement in 2001 which provided Kimble with three percent of net sales, earning more than $6 million. All was fine and dandy until 2006 when Marvel licensed the rights to Hasbro, and another dispute over the calculation of royalties erupted.
Marvel responded to this dispute by pointing to a 1964 Supreme Court decision, Brulotte v Thys Co., which forbids patent holders from collecting royalties after an expiration date of said patent is expired. The defendant ruled that they owed nothing to Kimble after 2010. And the case then was taken to higher court with a question of whether or not it was time to create a new precedent, and change the prior rule. But, today, in 2015, Justice Elena Kagan concluded that the old precedent stands untouched under what is known as stare decisis, deeming there was not enough justification to depart from stare decisis and allow an inventor to make deals that provide royalties after their patent expires. She claimed that it would just threaten even more precedents. At one point, the justice went so far to even quote a Spider-Man comic (she clearly did her research) stating:
In this world, with great power there must also come great responsibility.
Kimble’s war with Marvel sadly came to an end for the inventor, who really just went in with the intention of preventing complete monopolies (and you know, money). You got to feel sort of bad for the little guy in this situation. He created a toy, that is still probably making some money, and he’s not seeing any of it, instead Marvel just keeps rolling in the dough.
As for Marvel, another war won.