When Marvel Comics brought a super hero with them to the Supreme Court recently, they were hoping a pulp hero could help them defeat "outdated" patent rules. Spiderman's powers, however, were no match for stare decisis. As the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, stare decisis required them to uphold patent precedent, even if they thought, hypothetically, that it was wrongly decided.
In particular, Marvel was asking the Court to overrule Brulotte v. Thys Co., a 1964 case that applied a bright line prohibition on the payment of royalties after a patent had expired. Marvel wanted to continue an agreement where it paid royalties on certain toys -- particularly, one Spiderman figurine which shot foam string from its palm -- and urged the Court to reject what it thought was outdated economic reasoning behind the Brulotte rule. The High Court declined.