WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is leaping into a tangled web of litigation over a Spider-Man toy and its inventor's quest to keep collecting royalties even after his patent expired.
The justices said Friday they will consider the dispute over the rights to a Web Blaster toy that lets children shoot foam string from a glove just like the masked super hero.
Inventor Stephen Kimble sold his patent on the toy to comic book giant Marvel Entertainment — a division of Walt Disney Co. — in 2001 and agreed to a deal that has paid him more than $6 million in royalties. But Marvel decided to stop making payments after the patent expired in 2010.
Kimble argued that the agreement allowed him to collect royalties beyond the patent's expiration, but a lower court ruled against him. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that it was bound by a 50-year-old Supreme Court case forbidding payment of royalties after a patent expires.
Kimble wants the Supreme Court to overturn the precedent. The 1964 ruling in Brulotte v. Thys Co. said that a licensing agreement cannot pay royalties for an invention after a patent ends because that would be an improper way to extend the life of the patent.
Kimble argues that the half-century-old case has been widely criticized by other appeals courts and some antitrust experts who say it relies on outdated market assumptions. He says the old ruling stifles competition and that a licensing agreement doesn't actually extend patent rights or prevent anyone else from using or selling a similar product.
Marvel argues in legal briefs to the court that Congress has declined to change the ruling's impact on patent law, even as it has made other reforms to the law.
The Supreme Court is typically reluctant to overturn cases it has previously decided.
The court will hear arguments in Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises, 13-720, in the spring.