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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled against the inventor of a Spider-Man toy who claimed a half-century-old legal precedent prevented him from earning deserved royalties.
In a 6-3 vote, the court handed a victory to Walt Disney Co.'s Marvel Entertainment LLC in its legal fight with Stephen Kimble and an associate, Robert Grabb.
Kimble had asked the court to overrule the precedent, which said royalty payments generally do not need to be made after a patent has expired as is the case with the Spider-Man Web Blaster toy. Marvel, which has paid Kimble more than $6 million over the years to use the patent in the toy, had argued that the precedent set in a 1964 Supreme Court ruling should stand.
Kimble obtained a patent for his web-shooting glove in 1991, later assigning it to Marvel in return for a royalty fee.
After Kimble in 2008 claimed breach of contract, Marvel argued that the 1964 Supreme Court ruling in the case Brulotte v. Thys Co involving a harvesting machine meant it would not be required to pay the royalties once the patent expired in 2010.
A federal judge in Arizona agreed, and in 2013, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision, saying it was bound by the Supreme Court precedent.