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Spider-man web launcher royalties vervallen na het verlopen van octrooi

United States Court of Appeals for the ninth circuit 16 juli 2013, nr. 11-15605 (Kimble en Grabb tegen Marvel Enterprises Inc.)
Amerika. Octrooirecht. Contractenrecht. Royalties. Kimble (uitvinder van een spiderman-speelgoed) verliest de voordelen van de in 2001 gesloten licentieovereenkomst.

De Court of Appeals bevestigt het vonnis van de district court in het voordeel van Marvel Enterprises Inc., inhoudende dat de betaling van de royalties hadden moeten worden beëindigd op het moment dat het octrooi voor het Spiderman-speelgoed - de Web Blaster - verliep. De Court of Appeals oordeelde dat op grond van Brulotte v. Thys Co. (1964) een zogenoemde hybride licentieovereenkomst welke onafscheidelijke 'patent and non-patent rights' omvat, onuitvoerbaar is na de datum waarop het octrooi is verlopen, tenzij de overeenkomst 'a discounted rate for the non-patent rights' bevat 'or some other clear indication that the royalty at issue was in no way subject to patent leverage'.

Kimble further contends that this case is distinguishable because it involved a “hybrid” agreement, that coincidentally included both patent and non-patent rights, as opposed to a “hybrid” product, consisting of both patented and nonpatented ideas. Cf. Boggild, 776 F.2d at 1319 (applying Brulotte to a “patented item”). The flaw with Kimble’s argument is that at the time of the Settlement Agreement, it was uncertain whether the Web Blaster sales infringed the ‘856 Patent and the Settlement Agreement does not contain any clear indication that the Web Blaster royalties were not subject to patent leverage.

(...)We acknowledge our application of the Brulotte rule in this case arguably deprives Kimble of part of the benefit of his bargain based upon a technical detail that both parties regarded as insignificant at the time of the agreement. Indeed, as the Seventh Circuit has explained, Brulotte has been criticized for exactly that reason:

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion reasoned that by extracting a promise to continue paying royalties after expiration of the patent, the patentee extends the patent beyond the term fixed in the patent statute and therefore in violation of the law. That is not true. After the patent expires, anyone can make the patented process or product without being guilty of patent infringement. The patent can no longer be used to exclude anybody from such production. Expiration thus accomplishes what it is supposed to accomplish. For a licensee in accordance with a provision in the license agreement to go on paying royalties after the patent expires does not extend the duration of the patent either technically or practically, because . . . if the licensee agrees to continue paying royalties after the patent expires the royalty rate will be lower. The duration of the patent fixes the limit of the patentee’s power to extract royalties; it is a detail whether he extracts them at a higher rate over a shorter period of time or a lower rate over a longer period of time.
Scheiber v. Dolby Labs., Inc., 293 F.3d 1014, 1017 (7th Cir. 2002).

The Seventh Circuit’s criticism is particularly apt in this case. The patent leverage in this case was vastly overshadowed by what were likely non-patent rights, and Kimble may have been able to obtain a higher royalty rate had the parties understood that the royalty payments would stop when the patent expired. Nonetheless, Brulotte and its progeny are controlling. We are bound to follow Brulotte and cannot deny that it applies here. Accordingly, the district court’s judgment is AFFIRMED.