The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Marvel owes royalty payments to the creator of a Spider-Man toy after the patent for the Web Blaster expired.
As first reported by Courthouse News Service, Stephen Kimble patented the toy in 1990 and then approached Marvel to license the rights. Marvel passed, and when another company began manufacturing a similar toy — it shoots foam string, simulating Spider-Man’s web-shooters — Kimble sued, claiming patent infringement and breach of implied contract.
They eventually settled, with Marvel buying the rights and paying Kimble 3 percent of toy sales, which has amounted to about $6 million. He sued again in 2008, arguing Marvel breached the terms of the settlement by stopping royalty payments when it sold its toymaking division to Hasbro. Marvel countered that it didn’t owe royalties after Kimble’s patent expired in 2010.
By July 2013, the case ended up before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reluctantly ruled against Kimble, citing a 1964 Supreme Court decision (Brulotte v. Thys Co.) that forbids patent holders from collecting royalties after the patent has expired. In his petition to the Supreme Court, Kimble asked the justices to correct that earlier ruling, which he characterized as the “product of a bygone era,” intended to prevent monopolies.
The justices’ decision on Friday to review this case comes less than three months after Marvel reached a last-minute settlement with the heirs of Jack Kirby, heading off a potential appearance before the Supreme Court.