from the that-disney? dept
"We conclude that a patentee's use of a royalty agreement that projects beyond the expiration date of the patent is unlawful per se."But, because there can always be questionable rulings, there was another court ruling that (bizarrely) found that you can get a license for something that was never patented if you work out an agreement to that nature (that's Aronson v. Quick Point Pencil). This has made things messy.
In this case, some Spiderman fans patented a an invention of a toy that could shoot webs out of the toy's wrists, a la Spiderman. Marvel bought the patent from the inventors, promising a royalty if the company made such a toy, which it did. The patent expired in 2010 and Disney/Marvel stopped paying. The inventors sued... and have so far lost twice in the lower and appeals courts. The issue is now before the Supreme Court, with the direct question of whether or not the ruling in Brulotte should be overturned. Hopefully, it will not be. Once something is in the public domain it should stay there. And that is exactly what Disney/Marvel is arguing -- in ways that seem somewhat antithetical to the company's stance on copyright. Take this for example:
An essential part of the bargain at the heart of the patent system is that, when the patent term ends, all rights associated with the patent terminate and the patented idea is committed to the public domain for the free and unrestricted use of all. The same policy concerns animate other well-settled patent precedents, including the rule that a licensee may not be required to continue to pay royalties after a patent is invalidated. Private parties are properly forbidden from attempting to evade those congressional judgments.Just switch out copyright for patents and you see how this looks quite out of place for Disney to be arguing, since it has fought incredibly hard to make sure that the "end" of the copyright term is an amorphous, ever changing concept that is always in the future. And then there's this incredible statement, warning of how horrible it would be if royalties might accumulate forever:
If anything, modern developments underscore the need to protect the public domain from the aggregate toll of patent royalties that would accumulate foreverYou don't say, Disney. How very, very interesting...
Hopefully the Supreme Court makes quick work of this and sides with Disney in protecting the public domain on patents. But it will be interesting to see these statements come back up a couple of years from now as Mickey Mouse nears the public domain again, won't it?