the power of stare decisis

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Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises

The Supreme Court’s decisions are not only binding on lower courts, they often dictate the outcome of subsequent cases on its own docket through the doctrine of stare decisis. For example, in Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC the Court reviewed its own established precedent on the question of whether or not a patent-holder could earn royalties when the applicable license agreement extends out beyond the time when the patent covered by that agreement has expired. [Read our Preview here In 1964, the Supreme Court held in Brulotte v. Thys Co. “a royalty agreement that protects beyond the expiration date of the patent is unlawful per se.” In Kimble, the lower courts all ruled that Marvel did not owe royalties to an inventor with whom it had an agreement that violated the Brulotte rule. Mr. Kimble called the Brulotte rule the “product of a bygone era,” and “the most widely criticized of this Court’s intellectual property and competition law decisions” and asked the Court to replace “its rigid per se prohibition on post-examination patent royalties with a contextualized rule of reason analysis.” By a 6 – 3 margin, the Court held that stare decisis required it to adhere to Brulotte. While the Court has the power to overrule old decisions and thus depart from its own precedent, Justice Kagan ended her opinion first by explaining that “stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly” and then by quoting Marvel’s famous Spider-Man character: “In this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility.”