by Jim Nintzel
The Supreme Court ruled against the Tucson inventor of a Spider-Man web shooter toy Monday, saying Marvel Entertainment no longer has to pay him royalties on its sale of the toy.A few weeks ago, the Weekly reported that nerds were taking over the world. Further evidence: Slate notes that Justice Elena Kagan loaded up her opinion with Spider-Man references:
Stephen Kimble had argued that a 1964 court ruling that banned royalty payments after a patent expired was outdated and anti-competitive, and needed to be overturned.
But the court, in a 6-3 decision, said it was bound by precedent, even if that “means sticking to some wrong decisions.” The opinion by Justice Elena Kagan said Congress is the proper venue for Kimble’s complaint.
Kimble said Monday he was disappointed with the ruling.
“It’s as if nobody is really defending this law, but they’re saying, ‘Go to Congress to change it, don’t come to us,'” he said in a phone interview. “It’s disappointing.”
Kagan, a huge fan of comic books, decided to have some fun with the topic, weaving Spider-Man references throughout her opinion. (The justice famously has a great sense of humor, once citing Dr. Seuss in a dissent.) After noting that the toy is designed for "children (and young-at-heart adults)," Kagan delivers of series of jokes that enliven the dry case:
• 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).Impressively, Kagan actually uses humor to further her point. One party to the case asked the court to overrule a longstanding precedent. But Kagan refused, instead abiding by stare decisis—a principle that the court should follow its own precedents.
• Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time.
• [T]he decision’s close relation to a whole web of precedents means that reversing it could threaten others.
• As against this superpowered form of stare decisis, we would need a superspecial justification to warrant reversing [an old decision].
Then Kagan actually references the Spider-Man comic books:
• 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: “Spider-Man,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility”).