It turns out Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan is a big fan of comic books. It even notes in her government bio, which would explain the wisecracks she slipped into the ruling in Kimble vs. Marvel Entertainment.
Before that, though, here’s an origin story, one that includes “super powers” but gets really dry really quick. The tale goes like this: Marvel once bought the patent of Stephen Kimble, who designed a toy that gives users to shoot “webs” made of foam string from their hands. The agreement was a 3% royalty of all sales.
But an end date was never set. So when Marvel attorneys heard about the 1964 decision of Brulotte vs. Thys Co, which meant they could’ve stopped paying Kimble in 2010 when the patent ran out, they jumped on it. But Kimble believes the decades-old court decision is out of date, claiming it to be wrongheaded by suppressing innovation and hurting the economy.
The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Marvel and in the official ruling, Justice Kagan let them jokes fly…
“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).”
“Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time.”
“To the contrary, the decision’s close relation to a whole web of precedents means that reversing it could threaten others.”
“What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: "SpiderMan,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility”).“