Among four decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court today came a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan to employ stare decisis and uphold a 1964 SCOTUS decision (Brulotte v. Thys) that held that the owner of a patent cannot continue to receive royalties for sales made after the patent expires. Stare decisis is, generally, "the idea that today’s Court should stand by yesterday’s decisions," according to Justice Kagan.
The case before the Court, Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, involved Stephen Kimble, who had patented a Spider-Man toy which Marvel purchased and for which it had agreed to pay royalties. When the patent was expiring, Marvel learned about the 1964 precedent and asked the district court for a declaratory judgment that it could stop paying royalties on the toy. The district court issued the order and the 9th Circuit affirmed. Kimble appealed to the Supreme Court, urging the Court to overturn the Brulotte decision.
Justice Kagan, writing for the majority, held that the Court would not overturn Brulotte. She conducted a lengthy analysis of stare decisis in support of the decision, and culminated with a quote that may sum up the doctrine and the Court itself: “[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility.” While stare decisis is a fundamental principle in the Supreme Court, this may be the first time it has been supported with a quotation from a Spider-Man comic.
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