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Supreme Court’s ruling on Spider-Man toy dispute brings out Justice’s geeky side

With great power comes the ability to make great jokes.


Aja Romano

Internet Culture

Posted on Jun 22, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 12:46 pm CDT

Marvel just won a longstanding dispute over patent royalties, but what’s really important is that today the Internet discovered Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan is a huge Spider-Man fan.

Kagan wrote the SCOTUS decision on Kimble v. Marvel, regarding the patent expiration for a toy called the “Web Blaster” that enables kids to sling webs like all the best radioactive super heroes. The court found in favor of Marvel, meaning it won’t have to pay royalties to the toy’s inventor since its patent has expired. 

The court’s decision was brief, just 18 pages. However, in writing it, Kagan decided to let her geek flag fly, as evidenced by the following excerpts from the official SCOTUS opinion:

In 1990, petitioner Stephen Kimble obtained a patent on a toy that allows children (and young-at-heart adults) to role-play as “a spider person” by shooting webs—really, pressurized foam string—“from the palm of [the] hand.” 
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. … As against this superpowered form of stare decisis, we would need a superspecial justification to warrant reversing Brulotte.
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”). Finding many reasons for staying the stare decisis course and no “special justification” for departing from it, we decline Kimble’s invitation to overrule Brulotte

Well, you certainly don’t get multiple comics jokes in your average Supreme Court ruling. Naturally, Geek Twitter was all aflutter:

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We hope the court starts dropping Spidey references in all of its opinions. 

Photo via BagoGames/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Jun 22, 2015, 1:30 pm CDT