US & Canada

US Supreme Court justice quotes Spider-Man in patent ruling

Spider-Man Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A Spider-Man toy was the subject of US Supreme Court Case

In a wink to comic book fans, a US Supreme Court justice has tucked several superhero references into a ruling involving a Spider-Man toy.

The court decided in favour of entertainment company Marvel in its legal battle with the inventor of a web-shooting toy, Stephen Kimble, over royalty payments for expired patents.

"With great power there must also come - great responsibility," wrote Justice Elena Kagan, referencing a famous line from the comics.

The case was decided in a 6-3 ruling.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Justice Kagan

At issue was whether Marvel should have continued paying royalties to the toy's inventor after a patent on the toy expired in 2010.

Mr Kimble sold a patent on the toy to the entertainment company in 2001, with an agreement that he would receive royalty payments.

Once the patent expired, Marvel stopped payments, citing the high court's ruling in the 1964 case known as Brulotte v Thys Co.

Mr Kimble had argued that the court should over rule its previous decision which said royalties generally shouldn't be paid after patents expire.

Justice Kagan acknowledged that the court can overturn its own precedents, but said the justices "should exercise that authority sparingly".

"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)," Justice Kagan said.

The quote is an apparent reference to the theme song from the 1967 Spider-Man television programme that features the lyric: "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can".

Mr Kimble has earned more than $6m (£3,789,409) in royalty fees for the toy from Marvel.

More on this story