Supreme Court Tells Conan Doyle Estate To Take A Hike: Consider Sherlock Holmes In The Public Domain

from the well-that-didn't-take-long... dept

Well that did not take long at all. We just wrote about the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate begging the Supreme Court to issue a stay on the appeals court ruling that determined (easily) that Sherlock Holmes was in the public domain. The Conan Doyle Estate wanted the Supreme Court to issue a stay on the decision while it prepared an appeal. That stay would effectively block the publication of the book that Leslie Klinger was planning -- which was at the center of the lawsuit.

Justice Elena Kagan, who received the request for the stay from the estate has already rejected it with no comment or explanation. She did so without consulting with her fellow justices or without asking (or waiting) for a filing from Klinger. She has every right to just make this decision, but it certainly suggests that the Supreme Court (well, at least Kagan) finds the appeals court ruling to be quite persuasive, and is not at all convinced the estate has a legitimate argument. I'm sure that the estate will still ask the Supreme Court to rehear the case, but at least this initial response suggests that the Supreme Court is not interested. Chalk up another (small) victory for the public domain.
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Filed Under: copyright, elena kagan, leslie klinger, public domain, sherlock holmes, supreme court
Companies: conan doyle estate

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2014 @ 4:51pm

    compare to patents


    The royalty provisions of a patent licensing agreement which provides for royalties for the use of machines incorporating certain patents are not enforceable for the period beyond the expiration of the last patent incorporated in the machine...

    We conclude that the judgment below must be reversed insofar as it allows royalties to be collected which accrued after the last of the patents incorporated into the machines had expired.

    The Constitution by Art. I, § 8 authorizes Congress to secure "for limited times" to inventors "the exclusive right" to their discoveries. Congress exercised that power by 35 U.S.C. § 154, which provides in part as follows:
    "Every patent shall contain a short title of the invention and a grant to the patentee, his heirs or assigns, for the term of seventeen years, of the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention throughout the United States, referring to the specification for the particulars thereof. . . . "…

    ". . . any attempted reservation or continuation in the patentee or those claiming under him of the patent monopoly, after the patent expires, whatever the legal device employed, runs counter to the policy and purpose of the patent laws."...

    But patents are in the federal domain, and "whatever the legal device employed"... a projection of the patent monopoly after the patent expires is not enforceable. The present licenses draw no line between the term of the patent and the post-expiration period. The same provisions as respects both use and royalties are applicable to each. The contracts are, therefore, on their face a bald attempt to exact the same terms and conditions for the period after the patents have expired as they do for the monopoly period. We are, therefore, unable to conjecture what the bargaining position of the parties might have been and what resultant arrangement might have emerged had the provision for post-expiration royalties been divorced from the patent and nowise subject to its leverage.

    In light of those considerations, we conclude that a patentee's use of a royalty agreement that projects beyond the expiration date of the patent is unlawful per se...
    The exaction of royalties for use of a machine after the patent has expired is an assertion of monopoly power in the post-expiration period, when, as we have seen, the patent has entered the public domain. We share the views of the Court of Appeals in Ar-Tik Systems, Inc. v. Dairy Queen, Inc.,... that, after expiration of the last of the patents incorporated in the machines "the grant of patent monopoly was spent" and that an attempt to project it into another term by continuation of the licensing agreement is unenforceable.

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