PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge made the right move in dismissing Stan Lee Media's claims that comic book legend Stan Lee infringed on intellectual property rights by licensing characters Lee created, a panel for the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
Stan Lee Media, Inc., a Colorado corporation, had urged the 9th Circuit to revive claims that Lee - its former president - had assigned the rights to his characters in 1998, a month before Lee inked another licensing deal with Marvel.
The company filed for bankruptcy in 2001, and in 2006 launched a flurry of lawsuits against Lee and Marvel to reclaim the assets it says were stripped during the bankruptcy.
A federal judge in New York tossed Stan Lee Media's action there in 2011, for being well outside the statute of limitations. The company's actions in a Denver federal court against the Walt Disney Company - which bought Marvel in 2009 - failed as well, since it had already litigated the same key issues in the New York court and lost.
In 2012, a federal judge in Los Angeles tossed yet another case, noting the previous dismissals in New York and Denver. On appeal, Stan Lee Media's attorneys argued that Lee had never listed the characters as assets when he chaired the company, to cover up the fact that he had already assigned the rights to Marvel.
The characters include Spiderman, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four.
In a per curiam memorandum, the 9th Circuit panel affirmed the L.A. federal judge's dismissal, holding that Stan Lee Media had failed show Lee had ever assigned the rights to his characters to the company at all.
"The record demonstrates that, between the date the agreement was signed and the filing of related litigation in 2007, SLMI never announced that it owned rights to these characters (even when publicly disclosing company information pursuant to a securities offering), licensed the characters, produced content related to the characters, or asserted or attempted to enforce its ownership rights," the court wrote. "During the course of SLMI's bankruptcy proceedings, which lasted from 2001 to 2006, neither the company, nor Stan Lee, nor SLMI's shareholders asserted that SLMI possessed an interest in the characters. Meanwhile, others were openly producing content and generating revenues from the characters. Given the significant value of these franchises, SLMI's failure to publicize, protect, or exploit its right to profit from the characters establishes that these claims are simply implausible." [Parentheses in opinion.]
The court also noted that, interestingly, Stan Lee Media's latest complaint never mentions its rights to Lee's lesser-known characters, which it claims the comic book creator also assigned to them and then took elsewhere.
"Therefore, we need not consider any potential claims related to the Lee characters," the court wrote. "We affirm the district court's dismissal."
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