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Law School Case Brief

Kimble v. Marvel Entm't, LLC - 135 S. Ct. 2401 (2015)


Overruling precedent is never a small matter. Stare decisis—in English, the idea that today’s court should stand by yesterday’s decisions—is a foundation stone of the rule of law. Application of that doctrine, although not an inexorable command, is the preferred course because it promotes the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process. It also reduces incentives for challenging settled precedents, saving parties and courts the expense of endless relitigation.


Respondent Marvel Entertainment's corporate predecessor agreed to purchase petitioner Stephen 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., 379 U.S. 29, 85 S. Ct. 176, 13 L. Ed. 2d 99, in which the United States Supreme Court held that a patentee cannot continue to receive royalties for sales made after his patent expires. Marvel then sought a declaratory judgment in federal district court confirming that it could stop paying Kimble royalties. The district court granted relief, which the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Kimble filed a petition, specifically requesting the Court to overrule Brulotte.


Did the district court err when it relied on Brulotte v. Thys Co.?




Overruling a long-standing precedential decision which held that a patentee could not continue to receive royalties after expiration of the patent was not warranted since the doctrine of stare decisis favored settled law, the precedent did not preclude business arrangements other than royalties, there was a broad policy favoring unrestricted use of patents after their expiration, overruling the precedent could threaten other precedents, and the precedent was simple and workable.

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