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Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment

Justia Summary

Marvel Entertainment’s corporate predecessor agreed to purchase Kimble’s patent for a Spider-Man toy in exchange for a lump sum plus a 3% royalty on future sales. The agreement set no end date for royalties. As the patent neared the end of its statutory 20-year term, Marvel discovered Brulotte v. Thys Co., in which the Supreme Court held that a patentee cannot continue to receive royalties for sales made after his patent expires and sought a declaratory judgment that it could stop paying Kimble royalties. The district court granted relief. The Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed, adhering to Brulotte. A patent typically expires 20 years from its application date. 35 U S.C. 154(a)(2). At that point, the unrestricted right to make or use the article passes to the public. The Brulotte rule may prevent some parties from entering into deals they desire, but parties can often find ways to achieve similar outcomes. Congress, moreover, has had multiple opportunities to reverse Brulotte and has even rejected bills that would have replaced Brulotte’s per se rule with the rule of reason standard. Congress, not the Court, gets to make patent policy.

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