Tuesday News: Spider-Man, Legos, Banned Books, and The Briefcase
Supreme Court cuts the string on Spider-Man toy inventor’s patent – A Spider-Man toy wristband that shoots a silly-string like “spider web” was collecting royalties from Marvel well past the expiration of its patent, pursuant to an open-ended contract between the toy’s creator, Stephen Kimble, and Marvel. However, the Supreme Court upheld the precedent set by the 1964 case Brulotte v. Thys Co., which held that royalties should not extend beyond a patent’s duration, citing the limited protection a patent confers. Justice Kagan wrote the majority opinion (6-3), but both the ruling and the dissent utilized the language of the comic in their decisions.
Though most patents are good for 20 years, private parties often enter into royalty agreements that do not specify an end date. Those frequently lead to lawsuits if the agreements are breached, usually because the party paying royalties discovers the patent has expired and stops payments.
In this case, Marvel argued it was not obligated to pay Kimble based on product sales after the patent’s expiration. Two lower courts agreed, and Kimble — who has received more than $6 million — found his way to the Supreme Court only by arguing that the precedent for those decisions should be overturned. –USA Today
How Lego legally locked in the iconic status of its mini figures – One key to Lego’s longevity in the toy market is an aggressive legal strategy of suing competitors for patent and/or trademark infringement. The company recently won a trademark case in an EU court against Best-Lock, which already produces toys compatible with Lego systems. In this case, Best-Lock argued that the human-shaped figures Lego produced served a technical function as building blocks, but the court disagreed, and in doing so, held that those Lego figures were uniquely designed and therefore still protected by trademark:
Shapes of products can be registered as trademarks, provided they are distinctive and therefore enable consumers to recognize the trade origin of the good. The typical example is the Coca-Cola bottle: its shape has been registered as a three-dimensional trademark by the Atlanta-based giant. Lego registered its figures as a three-dimensional trademark in 2000.
Even when products are distinctive, however, they may be denied trademark protection if the shape itself is also deemed to serve a technical function. This is to protect competition. It ensures that companies cannot use trademark law in order to perpetually monopolize technical solutions (trademark registration can be renewed every ten years, potentially for ever) and therefore block technological progress. –Mashable
We Tried — And Failed — To Identify The Most Banned Book In America – This is a very interesting piece by David Goldenberg on FiveThirtyEight’s attempt to quantifiably rank the most banned books in the U.S. for the past year. Despite the ALA’s release of a list featuring the top 10 “most frequently challenged books,” when you start digging into the details of how the challenges are classified and the list compiled, things get really murky. Which, considering the incendiary nature of censorship accusations, seems a little troubling.
The American Library Association is saying that its challenge database isn’t statistically valid and that despite the hundreds of news articles about its list, the database is not meant for public consumption. I sent a list of follow-up questions about the database and the publicity around it, but an ALA spokeswoman said no one would be able to comment until at least July, citing busy preparations for the organization’s upcoming annual conference.
The list’s statistical validity is in question because we have little idea how it is put together. We don’t know how challenges are collected — based on past descriptions from the OIF, it seems like an amalgam of news reports and calls from concerned librarians. We also know that at least one author self-reports challenges: Parnell tells me that he lets the ALA know whenever he hears news of “Tango” coming under fire. (Whether those reports make it into the tally or not is unknown.) In addition, the ALA’s system seems to be agnostic to the type or severity of the challenge or its effectiveness. A parent questioning whether a Batman picture book is age-appropriate for the kid shelves appears to be given the same weight — a “challenge” — as a school board removing “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from the syllabus of schools throughout an entire county. –FiveThirtyEight
The Briefcase: A Reality TV Show Straight From the Victorian Era – I watched the first episode of CBS’s new series, The Briefcase, and could barely get through it. A number of people on Twitter had the same reaction, and the recurring theme among the dissenters was the shaming aspect of the show. Which, given the extravagant wealth we see regularly celebrated on reality television these days, seems particularly perverse. Until you think about the ongoing reduction of the middle class, and the increasing politicization of wealth in the U.S., as more of it becomes concentrated in the top 1%. What better way than to justify that shift than to portray working class Americans as morally deficient. Class, so often perceived to be fluid and flexible in the U.S. needs more critical attention.
. . . Each family gets the chance to wander through the other’s home, looking for signs of worthiness (artificial limbs resting against the wall, medical bills left out on a counter). And after an hour of viewers waiting to see how much money desperate people are honorable enough to hand over, there’s a meeting between the two families to rationalize, exchange money, and offer catharsis. It’s an O. Henry-esque short story of staged goodwill, and it’s as close to a Victorian slum tour as reality TV can get without a time machine.
The Briefcase is ostensibly about generosity in tough circumstances—a contestant from Wednesday’s episode opined that people should “show each other that if you’re falling down, we’re going to be here to pick you up.” But its structure encourages more judgment than empathy from its viewers. Each episode positions viewers to carry out their own assessment of the families on screen—how truly needy they are, and how authentic and generous they’ll prove to be. –The Atlantic