Category Archives: superheroes

Superman and Supergirl: Environmental Refugees

(This guest post was written by Kean Zimmermana recent graduate from Michigan State University College of Law.  This post is an in-depth exploration of Superman and Supergirl’s environmental refugee status touched on in a previous article. The analysis in this article has changed to reflect the Supergirl in the TV series and recent New Zealand Court decisions. That article can be viewed online at L&F Magazine.)


The writers and contributors who have posted on Law and the Multiverse, as well as other legal scholars, have taken the opportunity to note the various legal issues that superheroes and villains face when it comes to the intricate web that is immigration law.  Recent developments in the world have lead to an increase in refugees, especially refugees forced from their homes not just by people, but by the environment.  Kryptonians would likely be counted among the other environmental refugees.  Similarly the survivors of Krypton would also struggle with many of the same setbacks.

The United States has instituted laws addressing refugees since 1948.[1]  In 1948, the  United States government enacted the first law for admitting persons fleeing persecution.[2]  The law permitted 205,000 refugees to enter the United States over the course of two years.[3]  It was not until 1951 that the first steps were taken to recognize refugees on an international scale.[4]  In 1951, the United Nations put forth the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is the underpinning of most refugee law in the world.[5]  The Convention defines refugees, their rights, and what obligations states have to refugees across the globe.[6]  The same Convention states that individuals may seek asylum if they have a well founded fear of persecution on account of one of the five pre-approved grounds.[7]  Those are race, religion, ethnicity, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.[8]  While most countries that have adopted the convention’s regulations to govern refugee law, those same laws have not been updated to keep pace with current trends.  Currently, there is a gap between what the law provides and what is needed.[9]  The widening gap is most certainly the case of what is occurring with environmental refugees.

A. Environmental Refugees

Environmental refugees are growing in number across the globe, but both domestic and international laws have yet to grow along with the refugees.  According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an environmental refugees is “a person displaced owing to environmental causes, notably land loss and degradation, and natural disaster.”[10]  These refugees are also known as “displaced people” or “climate refugees.”[11]  Environmental refugees are not a new phenomena, yet in recent years there has been an increase in attention to climate refugees.  This is correlative to the changes in climate that have occurred in recent years.[12]

I. Superman and Supergirl’s Not so Super Problem

A. Superman: A True Illegal Alien

There is no question that Superman, or rather Clark Kent, is not from this planet.  In fact he embodies the term “illegal alien” in that he never properly migrated to this country, or at least did not do so through official channels.  His provenance can be forgiven given the fact that he was sent by his parents from the planet Krypton.[13]  The reasons for the planet’s demise have varied over the years.  This post, however, adopts the theory from the Man of Steel movie.  In the Man of Steel, Krypton’s resources were over-consumed to the point that the planet imploded on itself.[14]   Environmental disaster on a planetary scale obliterated Krypton in its entirety.[15]

As a baby, young Clark could not be expected to file his asylum petition on his own.  The Kents adopted Clark after finding him in their field.[16]  The two possible ways this would occur today would be if Clark had been legally adopted as an abandoned child, or if the Kents had somehow managed to obtain forged documentation for Clark.  However, Clark would still have to file his claim for asylum the year after he turned 18.[17]  Clark would have clearly exceeded this statutory limitation as there is no evidence he has ever applied for asylum.[18]  Typically the law requires asylum seekers to affirmatively apply for asylum within one year after entering the United States.[19]  Recently, in a Board of Immigration Appeals decision, the court stated that an applicant’s age can be taken into consideration when determining if they can be exempted from the one year filing rule.[20]  Since there is no evidence that Clark ever attempted to apply for asylum this may have no bearing whatsoever.

Somehow Superman has the ability to renounce his United States citizenship in Action Comics 900.[21]  Renouncing American citizenship is governed under  section 349(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.[22]  The backlash after this comic book was released was so huge that publisher DC Comics backtracked a week later and announced the issue itself was standalone.[23]  Being a standalone issue meant no further issue would explore Superman’s discarding of his American citizenship.  At least in this respect, it can be assumed that he has United States citizenship.  There is a chance that Kent was granted citizenship under the foundling statute even though it is rarely used.[24]  Based on this law, because Kent’s parentage was unknown as he entered the United States under the age of five, and since he hid his secret well after the age of twenty-one, he could possibly have attained legitimate United States citizenship through the statute.[25]

There is little debate that Superman had to leave Krypton before its ultimate implosion.[26] While Superman has never formally been considered a refugee, he fits the basic understanding of an environmental refugee in that he literally has no planet to return to.  Since it is presumed from DC that he somehow has citizenship, he does not have to examine this question.[27]  The same cannot be said for his cousin Kara Zor-El, also known as Supergirl.

B. Supergirl’s Dilemma

While Superman might want to file for Supergirl’s entry into the country through legal channels, there is no “cousin” spot for admitting someone into the country as a family member (he could only seek to admit a parent, spouse, child, or sibling).[28]  The most logical option at that point would be Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).[29]  Supergirl’s biological age is only thirteen given that she was trapped in the Phantom Zone, a place where time moves slower than on Earth, after she left Krypton.[30]  However, her actual age is suggested to be much greater given that she was stuck in the Phantom Zone while Superman grew into a man (her age after arriving in the United States is an estimated thirty-seven years).[31]  The United States government might not consider her young enough to qualify for DACA based on the elevated age. Biologically she would have entered the country before turning sixteen, but she would have been alive for thirty-seven years.  As such, Superman would likely seek either asylum or withholding of removal for his cousin.

The problem then exists is that Supergirl cannot claim asylum based on the fact that her planet no longer exists.  Actual displacement based on loss of home due to an environmental disaster would seem to fall under the concept of an environmental refugee, but as of right now environmental refugees are not recognized under most international laws.  Environmental refugees do not appear to be eligible for asylum solely based on their status as an environmental refugee.  Most countries base their refugee law on the 1951 Refugee Convention.[32]  As previously mentioned, the Convention prescribes five grounds upon which an individual can receive asylum.  Those grounds are race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and a particular social group.[33]  Supergirl must also be suffering from some kind of “persecution” that is based on one of the five grounds.[34]

In this case Supergirl’s persecution is simply that she is unable to return to her home planet of Krypton.  She lacks the opportunity to avail herself of the Kryptonian government since it is non-existent.  She would seek admittance to the United States, but she does not fall into a persecutorial nexus based on any of the five grounds.  At this point, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would contemplate whether or not it could forcibly eject Supergirl from the United States.  To do so would mean extreme costs on the United States government as simply containing her would likely cost upwards of $20 million.[35]  Even if Supergirl were to be ejected from the country, she would have nowhere else to go.

C. Super and Stateless

In effect Supergirl is actually a stateless person.  As of now the United States has not signed on to any of the major international conventions which attempt to reduce the number of stateless persons.[36]  Currently, the United States is lacking a basic framework to deal with stateless people, so most of its efforts are merely stopgap measures.[37]  The absence of a framework often leaves stateless persons in a position of limbo for excessive periods of time, especially if they no longer have a country to return to or no country which will accept them.[38]  Supergirl would likely be in a similar position as Krypton no longer exists.  After a determination is made that she either cannot return, or that it is too expensive to deport her, the government would probably require Supergirl to make routine reports to the Department of Homeland Security.[39]  Although she might be able to receive a work permit, if she were to ever leave the borders of the United States, border patrol could then deny her readmission.[40]

As a last ditch effort, Supergirl might try to claim asylum on the basis of her membership in a particular social group.[41]  She could argue that her particular social group is that of a Kryptonian who survived the destruction of the planet of Krypton.  However, such a group has yet to be acknowledged by the United States government.  Even then the persecution would have to be a form of past persecution.  Different circuits within the United States recognize different grounds or acceptable forms of past persecution.  Thus far, none have accepted the idea of “loss of a home” as a viable form of past persecution.  In fact, there is no law stating that the loss of a country, let alone a planet, amounts to persecution.  One of the only individuals in the world to make such an argument thus far has had little success.

II. Tuvalu: An Island and its Implications for Immigrants

Ioane Teitiota is the first man in New Zealand to seek asylum under the label of environmental refugee.[42]  Teitiota has been living in New Zealand since 2007 after leaving his Tuvaluan home; he believes his home will become uninhabitable before too long.[43]  Tuvalu is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean.[44]  The island is located halfway between Australia and Hawaii.[45]  Although very unassuming, the island is predicted to be the first island to succumb to rising sea levels.[46]  In 2009, there were many trees swallowed by the rising salt water, but as of 2012 whole parts of the island were consumed.[47] The highest point of the country above sea level is only a few meters high.[48]  Before the island is swallowed by the sea there are many Tuvaluans who are concerned that encroaching salt water will prevent any type of agriculture from persisting on the island.[49]  To that end, many Tuvaluans have fled their country, but not all have succeeded in trying to relocate.

The Court of Appeals in New Zealand denied Mr. Teitiota’s  application for Asylum in 2014 stating that his case was “fundamentally misconceived” and that it would “stand the [UN refugee] convention on its head.”[50]  While Teitiota argued that he would be facing “passive persecution” as a result of his government being unable to “protect him from climate change’s effects,” the court remained unpersuaded.[51]  Ultimately, the court felt that Teitiota’s arguments were “novel,” but “unconvincing” as granting him asylum would simply open up opportunities for millions of people living in low-lying countries to seek the same kind of asylum.[52]  To avoid a flood gates situation the Court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny Teitiota’s claim for asylum.  The Court’s decision meant that Mr. Teitiota, his wife, and his three children born in New Zealand would have to return to their native home of Tuvalu.[53]

It seemed strange then that a different family from Tuvalu was granted New Zealand residency only months later after making similar claims.[54]  The family’s petition was the first “successful application for residency on humanitarian grounds in which climate change had featured.”[55]  The Court claimed the second case was different since the family had strong ties to New Zealand.  Like Mr. Teitiota’s claim, the second family was denied initially for not meeting the standards of the refugee convention.[56]  However, the second family successfully won their subsequent appeal by basing their argument on humanitarian grounds.[57]  In the July 2014 decision, the Court found that returning the family back to Tuvalu would be “unjust and unduly harsh.”[58]  The largest difference between the two applicants is the second Tuvaluan family has three generations of relatives living in New Zealand, increasing their ties to the community.[59]  Supergirl may be able to raise a similar argument since she herself has ties to the United States in the form of her cousin Superman.  This would likely fail though since Superman himself is only one man, not three generations of familial ties.  Furthermore, the United States has done very little within its own borders to make immigration exceptions for environmental refugees from abroad.

III. What the United States is doing for Environmental Refugees

There is no official legal framework to address the problems environmental refugees face when they try to enter the United States.  The United States has taken some steps to acknowledge this unique group of refugees immigrating into the United States.  The Immigration Act of 1990 does address granting temporary protection status to such refugees.[60]  Temporary protection status is granted when:

There has been an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, or other environmental disaster in the state resulting in a substantial, but temporary, disruption of living conditions in the area affected’ and when ‘the foreign state is unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return to the state of aliens who are nationals of the state.[61]
Temporary status only applies to individuals who are already inside the United States at the time of the disaster.[62]  The temporary status includes six months of protection and the ability to work, but it does not allow for the admission of the claimant’s spouse or family.[63]  Temporary protection status was granted to victims of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and victims displaced by the Montserrat volcano explosion in 1997.[64]  However, the granting of temporary protection status is discretionary.[65]  In addition to only protecting those who were environmentally displaced while they were present in the United States, as of 2014 only citizens of Haiti (earthquake), Honduras (hurricane Mitch), Nicaragua (hurricane Mitch), and El Salvador (earthquakes) were able to get temporary protected status for environmental events. [66]  There is no legal protection in the United States that creates a path to permanent status for environmental refugees.  As a country, the United States’ ability to protect those persons displaced by climate change is limited since its laws do not offer any substantive relief to those fleeing environmental disasters or rising sea levels outside of the United States.  In this lack of framework, the United States is consistent with many other international states who do not have legal frameworks to address the problems faced by environmental refugees.


In the end Supergirl will face the same fate as millions across the globe.  Without an adequate legal framework to deal with the surge in environmental refugees that is predicted to come in the next few decades, stopgap measures will be used to treat the environmental refugee crisis on too small a scale.  Excessive stopgap measures will lead to a bottleneck in the immigration system.  Supergirl will likely not be deported because of the sheer cost that would entail, and the fact that there is likely no Kryptonian agreement with any other country that would allow her to reside there.  In all likelihood, she will stay in the United States, but will not be able to ever qualify for United States citizenship since she falls within a grey area of the law.  This might not be as much of a problem, but if she were to ever save anyone outside of the United State’s borders then the United States could deny her readmission to the country. This would drastically limit the range of her allowable Superhero activities.


[1] History of U.S. Immigration Laws, Federation for American Immigration Reform,

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 189 U.N.T.S. 137 (done at Geneva, 28 July 1951), as amended by the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 606 U.N.T.S. 267, T.I.A.S. No. 6577, 19 U.S.T. 6223, done at New York, 31 Jan. 1967.

[5] The 1951 Refugee Convention,

[6] 1951 Refugee Convention, supra note 5.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Climate Refugees, Michael P. Nash, LA Think Tank,

[10] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,

[11] National geographic, Climate Refugee, available at , last visited Apr. 20, 2015.

[12] Climate Refugees, supra note 9.

[13] Man of Steel, Zack Snyder, Warner Bros., 2014.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.  (Adopt is likely a tentative term,  seeing as the Kents probably did not file the appropriate adoption paperwork as they did not want to risk the safety of their young child).

[17] INA §208(a)(2)(B).

[18] Id.

[19] INA §208(a)(2)(B).

[20] BIA Decision, Mar. 29, 2013,,

[21] Paul Cornell, Action Comics 900, (DC Comics, 2011).

[22] INA §349(a)(5).

[23] DC Backtracks Superman Renouncing His Citizenship, May 5, 2011, available at, last visited Apr. 18, 2015.

[24] Ryan Davidson, Superheroes and Immigration Status, Law and the Multiverse, Dec. 22, 2010, available at, last visited Apr. 20, 2015.  (James Daily Commentary).

[25] Id.

[26] Man of Steel, supra note 13.

[27] Paul Cornell, supra note 21.

[28] Bobbie Masters, Frequently Asked Questions About Immigration, Masters Law Firm, P.C., available at

[29] USCIS, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

[30] Supergirl, Warner Bros. Television (2015)

[31] Id.

[32] 1951 Refugee Convention, supra note 5.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Matt Hershberger, Is Superman Undocumented?,

[36] See Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, opened for signature Sept. 28, 1954, 360 U.N.T.S. 117 (entered into force June 6, 1960 ) ; see also Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, opened for signature Aug. 30, 1961, 989 U.N.T.S. 175 (entered into force Dec. 13, 1975)

[37] Mikhail Sebastien, Stateless in the United States,

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] 1951 Refugee Convention, supra note 5.

[42] Kathy Marks, World’s first ‘climate change refugee’ has appeal rejected as New Zealand rules Ioane Teitiota must return to South Pacific island nation of Kiribati,

[43] Id.

[44] Climate Refugees, supra note 9.

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

[47] Id.

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Marks, supra note 42.

[51] Id.

[52] Id.

[53] Id.

[54] Amy Maas, Tuvalu Climate Change Family Win NZ Residency Appeal, The New Zealand Herald,

[55] Id.

[56] Id.

[57] Id.

[58] Id.

[59] Maas, supra note 54.

[60] An EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, Commission Staff Working Document, European Union (2013), 17 (internal quotation marks omitted).

[61] Id.

[62] Id.

[63] Id.

[64] Strategy on Adaptation, supra note 60.

[65] Id.

[66] Madeline Messic & Claire Nergeron, Temporary Protected Status in the United States: A Grant of Humanitarian Relief that is Less Than Permanent,

Batman and the Constitution: How can the Gotham D.A. convict criminals captured by Batman?

(This guest post was written by Kevin Lelonek as a response to a comment on this post from way back in January, 2012.  In his own words, “Kevin is a dual degree student pursuing his J.D. and M.B.A. in Buffalo, New York. He’s in his last year of the program and looks forward to starting his career. And of course, he’s a total nerd.”)


Batman and the Constitution: How can the Gotham D.A. convict criminals captured by Batman?

In the comments to a previous article about Batman’s relationship to the “State,” Crazy Jay raised some serious questions about how the Gotham District Attorney is able to prosecute Gotham’s criminals when Batman is involved in the apprehension of those criminals. Crazy Jay asked “how can the District Atty. Prosecute a criminal if the Batman had his mitts all over the evidence?” Crazy Jay asked about how Due Process, Miranda Rights, Cross Examinations, the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine, confessions, and Search Warrants, the staples of criminal law, work in a world with Batman.  How indeed? So let’s get started.

  1. Another Night on Patrol

The simplest case in which Batman stops crime infringes on no Constitutional protections. Consider the following: two masked men armed with shotguns enter a bank. One of the tellers quickly signals the silent alarm. The two armed men wave their shotguns around and demand the bank’s patrons lie face down on the floor. They turn their shotguns to the tellers and demand that the tellers empty their drawers. The armed men take the money from the tellers’ drawers and threaten the bank manager to open the safe. Before the armed men can leave with the money Batman intervenes, disarms the robbers, ties them up, and leaves them for the police. The police arrive as Batman disappears in the shadows.

Generally, criminal Constitutional protections only operate against the government. Due process, depending on which theory of it we are talking about, is a broad concept. We can conceptualize it as a series of steps and attendant procedures that the government must take to obtain a conviction.[1] For example, a police officer needs probable cause before he can arrest someone, and the government must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction.[2]

Certainly in the above example the police that first arrive at the bank have probable cause to arrest the two armed men that Batman tied up.[3] At this point the two suspects are still masked and tied up, the two shotguns are presumably on the bank floor somewhere out of reach, and the police were summoned to the bank by the silent alarm. Statements by the patrons and employees provide further evidence of crime against the two men, making for a lawful arrest. Upon arresting the suspects, the police must read the suspects their Miranda rights. If the officers fail to do this, they risk having the suspects’ subsequent statements or confessions excluded at trial.[4]

In this situation there is nothing stopping Harvey Dent (pre-acid) from prosecuting the armed men. The fact that Batman thwarted the robbery does nothing to alter the fact that the two men forcibly stole property. To commit third degree robbery in New York, a person must: (1) wrongfully take, obtain, or withhold property; (2) with the intent to deprive the owner of such property or to appropriate the same for himself; and, (3) threaten another with the use of immediate physical force to prevent resistance to the taking of property or to compel the owner of the property or another person to deliver the property. [5]

Even if there were no surveillance cameras, the patrons of the bank and the bank’s employees can present evidence against the robbers sufficient to establish the elements of the crime.  Testimony to the facts above establishes that the armed men: (1) wrongfully took and obtained property that did not belong to them, the bank’s money; (2) intended to deprive the bank of its money and to appropriate the money for themselves when they demanded it from the tellers and bank manager; (3) used their shotguns to threaten the immediate use of force to prevent resistance to their demands. Further testimony to the effect that Batman intervened, disarmed the masked men, incapacitated them, tied them up, and left them for the police, who arrived shortly thereafter to unmask the armed men in front of the patrons and employees, establishes the identities of the defendants as those of the two armed men. The sum of all of this testimony seems to carry the prosecution’s burden of proof.

Of course the defendants are still entitled to their Sixth Amendment rights to put on a defense and to confront witnesses.[6] But Batman’s intervention does not alter these rights in any way: he is not preventing the defendants from presenting their own evidence in court or from cross examining the government’s witnesses against them. Assuming the defendants do not rat each other out for plea deals, we can imagine them putting on a common defense that attacks the credibility, perception, and memory of the witnesses with the intent to cast doubt on whether the defendants were in fact the robbers unmasked by the police. Lacking a population of witnesses that has sudden memory loss or that was lacking its required corrective eyewear (think My Cousin Vinny) it’s safe to say Dent gets his conviction on this one.

  1. Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

The “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine only applies to evidence that is discovered as a result of a violation of the Fourth Amendment.[7] The doctrine is an exclusionary rule that operates to preclude the introduction of evidence that was obtained as a result of a bad “search” or “seizure” (i.e. a search not based on a warrant or an arrest without probable cause).[8] Since the Constitution only restricts government action, it seems that the “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” doctrine would never apply to Batman. But this raises the question of how evidence procured by Batman, which he then turns over to the police, would be handled. Consider Batman: The Long Halloween when Batman leaves Carmine Falcone’s ledger on the GCPD HQ’s rooftop after meeting with Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent there.[9] Seemingly, the issue the government would face is establishing the ledger’s authenticity, that the ledger is in fact Carmine Falcone’s and that it details his illegal operations.[10] Assuming Batman is not testifying, the government would need to produce a witness who could identify the ledger as the ledger Carmine Falcone used to document his criminal enterprises.

  1. Confessions

Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, hearsay is generally not permissible testimony.[11] Hearsay is defined as a statement that the declarant makes while not testifying at the current trial or hearing.[12] However, a statement made by an opposing party is not considered hearsay. [13] Thus, a criminal defendant’s statement is not hearsay because the defendant is the opposing party to the prosecution in its case against the defendant. Accordingly, the confession Batman obtains from a suspect is admissible evidence at court. Getting the confession into evidence is another matter. Likely, Batman will not be testifying at the criminal trial. Unless Batman obtained the confession in the presence of another, who can testify to its substance, it probably won’t be used as evidence. Even if admitted, there is a credibility issue with the confession: if Batman “beat” the confession out of the defendant, the defense can attack its credibility by arguing that the confession was coerced.

  1. Search warrants

Now, the best (most interesting) for last: search warrants. In the ordinary case, police need a search warrant based on probable cause to search for and seize evidence.[14] Although inapplicable to the bank example above, we can imagine a situation in which Batman infiltrates a warehouse and identifies a large hidden cache of Penguin’s weapons. Batman alerts Commissioner Gordon to the location of the weapons. Before the GCPD can search the warehouse and seize the weapons it must first obtain a search warrant from a magistrate judge. In the usual case, a police officer who has witnessed what she suspects to be evidence of crime appears applies to a magistrate for a warrant based on what she witnessed. In the present case, Commissioner Gordon has not personally witnessed the weapons cache.[15] Being an honest cop, the Commissioner will not lie under oath to obtain a warrant. Luckily, under the Constitution the police, and our Commissioner, can obtain a warrant based on a tip from a reliable informant!

A search warrant based on an informant’s tip (hearsay) requires that the totality of the circumstances indicate to the magistrate judge that there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of crime will be found at a particular place. [16] The totality of the circumstances test takes into account the truthfulness and accuracy of the informant, as well as the basis of the informant’s knowledge.[17] Since this test is not rigid, probable cause could be found on facts provided by an informant either because the informant has been reliable in the past or because evidence of the informant’s basis of knowledge of those facts is strong.[18]

Lacking independent police obtained evidence of crime[19] (i.e. Harvey Bullock sees the cache of weapons himself), Gordon can appear before the magistrate judge (or provide an affidavit) to testify that: (1) he received a tip that there is a large cache of weapons in a warehouse in Gotham; (2) the warehouse is owned by Penguin; (3) the tip was provided by an informant with the alias “Matches,” (a named informant because Commissioner Gordon regularly relies on tips received from Batman); (4) “Matches” has supplied truthful and accurate tips in the past (meaning he has given tips in the past that resulted in the GCPD finding what “Matches” said it would find); and, (5) “Matches” personally gained access to the warehouse and saw the weapons cache. The more specific Commissioner Gordon can describe the weapons cache and the warehouse, the more likely the warrant issued on Batman’s tip is likely to withstand its subsequent challenge by Penguin after he is arrested. Thus, the tip is more reliable when Batman takes an inventory of the weapons and informs Gordon that Penguin has 20 cases of fully automatic Uzi’s and 10 cases of RPG’s. Likewise, the more the GCPD uses “Matches” as an informant who leads it to evidence of crime, the more reliable “Matches” becomes as an informant!


Now, this is not to say that Batman himself is not potentially criminally and civilly liable for his actions. If he crashes through the skylight window of the bank in the first example, in appropriately dramatic fashion, he would likely be liable for property damages. Also, his use of physical force against the two armed bank robbers likely constitutes assault.[20]

All of the foregoing indicates that Batman’s aid in stopping crime should not hinder the successful prosecution of criminal defendants by the Gotham DA. This of course makes the “revolving door” in Gotham all the more inexplicable. If Batman’s participation in law enforcement is legal, why are the super villains never successfully incarcerated?

We might consider the insanity defense to criminal charges. In New York, the defense is not called the insanity defense; instead it’s the mental defect or disease defense.[21] It requires that the defendant, at the time of the offense, lacked substantial capacity to know or appreciate the nature or consequences of his conduct, or that his conduct was wrong. But one study found that the insanity defense was only raised in 0.85% of cases, and was only successful in 26% of those cases.[22] Perhaps we can imagine that the 0.22% (0.85% * 26%) of successful insanity cases are those made by the likes of Joker, Two-Face, the Ventriloquist, and the more colorful members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. In any event it seems Batman’s involvement in law enforcement does not prevent the successful prosecution of criminal cases.


[1] Allen, Stuntz, Hoffmann, Livingston & Leipold, Comprehensive Criminal Procedure, 87-97 (3rd ed. 2011).

[2] Miles v. U.S., 103 U.S. 304 (1880).

[3] Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200 (1979).

[4] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

[5] NY Penal Law §§ 155.05, 160.0, 160.05 (McKinney 2015).

[6] See, e.g., In re Oliver, 333 U.S.  257 (1948); Washington v.Texas, 388 U.S. 14 (1967).

[7] Wong Sun v. U.S., 371 U.S. 471 (1963); Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961).

[8] See, e.g.California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621 (1991); Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978); Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347 (1967).

[9] Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale, Batman: The Long Halloween, (2011).

[10] Fed. R. Evid. 901(a).

[11] Fed. R. Evid. 802.

[12] Fed. R. Evid. 801(c).

[13] Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2).

[14] U.S. Const. amend IV; see, e.g., Johnson v. U.S., 333 U.S. 10 (1948).

[15] Presuming the weapons cache is hidden and would require entry into the warehouse to identify, Commissioner Gordon cannot go to the warehouse to corroborate Batman’s tip and provide independent evidence of crime: such action would be an unlawful search.

[16] Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983).

[17] Id.

[18] See id. As an aside, the “accurate and truthful” and “basis of knowledge” aspects of the test can, as a practical matter, be established by the same evidence. The events happen in the following sequence: (1) the police appear before the magistrate to present evidence based on a tip from an informant for a search warrant; (2) the magistrate issues the warrant; (3) the police execute the warrant, search, find evidence of crime,  and arrest the defendant; (4) the defendant is charged and challenges the basis of the warrant; (5) the trial court reviews the magistrate’s determination of probable cause taking into account whether the informant has provided accurate information in the past, and on whether the police found what the informant said it would find.  The fact that the police found what the informant said it would find establishes that the informant was “accurate and truthful,” and that the informant had a reliable basis for his knowledge (how else would the informant know what the police would find!).

[19] Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983).

[20] N.Y. Penal Law § 120.00 (McKinney 2015).

[21] N.Y. Penal Law § 40.15 (McKinney 2015).

[22] Michael Perlin, The Jurisprudence of the Insanity Defense, 108 (1993).

The Superior Spider-Man & The March Across the Valley of Death (Part 2)

(This is the second part of a two-part guest post written by Anthony Cova, who serves as the Corporate Counsel at Addgene, Inc., a nonprofit plasmid repository, where he handles the company’s legal and technology transfer matters.  The views expressed in these posts are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Addgene.)


In Part I, I discussed the origins of technology transfer, or transfer of university innovations to the public in a commercially available form. Since the 1787 Constitution, the federal government and most universities have shared a common objective of promoting the general welfare by encouraging, supporting and sharing innovations. Nonetheless, many innovations, such as the cybernetics technology that enabled Aunt May and Flash Thompson to walk again, fail to reach the public. Many innovations may perish in the Valley of Death (the “Valley”), because they lack the necessary funding. Others fail because companies like Parker Industries (“PI”) choose to shelve the innovation.

In Part II, I will discuss how Empire State University (“ESU”) and the federal funding agencies (collectively, the “FED”) can rescue the cybernetics technology from PI on the public’s behalf. For the purposes of this discussion, I make the following assumptions: Octavius’s cybernetics technology, as researched and developed at PI, is (i) federally funded (ii) patentable technology (iii) that was assigned to, and (iv) retained by, Empire State University and (v) exclusively licensed to PI.[1]



ESU: With Great (Patent) Power, Comes Great (Contractual) Responsibilities

  1. Power of Assignment

Universities and other organizations electing to retain title to federally funded inventions (“FFIs”) must comply with several provisions under the Bayh-Dole Act (“BD”). Otherwise, they may lose not only title to those FFIs but possibly federal funding as well. Given the dwindling pool of federal research dollars and the increasing need for license derived revenue, few universities can afford to mismanage their innovations. For most U.S. universities, proper management begins well before an invention’s conception—it starts with the inventor.

Under U.S. patent law, the owner of an invention is the individual inventor. However, due to the pervasive nature of federal funding in university research and its various obligations, many university policies, as a prerequisite to hiring or enrollment, often require faculty, graduate students and other researchers to assign to their university all patent rights in any future inventions. Even non-university members may be subject to such assignment provisions if they make use of substantial university resources. In the event that federal funding has contributed to an invention, these provisions help universities avoid practical challenges (such as engaging a reluctant or adverse inventor-owners), comply with BD obligations, and, ultimately, facilitate the dissemination of university innovations to the public.

By enrolling at ESU to pursue a Ph.D., Octavius would have agreed to ESU’s intellectual property policy, which, based on similarly situated New York universities, such as Columbia, NYU, and SUNY,[2] likely stated that any patentable technologies Octavius developed while at ESU or using ESU resources were assigned to ESU. Accordingly, the cybernetics technology[3] was likely assigned to ESU.[4]


2. Power of Fees and Payments

      If a university elects to retain title to a FFI,[5] it must comply with several BD obligations. These include: (i) sharing an invention’s technical specifications with the public by filing a patent application within a year; (ii) favoring U.S. manufacturers for invention products; (iii) favoring small businesses in licensing deals; and (iv) reinvesting any FFI derived income into further university research. More importantly, universities have an obligation to (v) ensure that their licensees diligently work toward making licensed FFIs, and their practical benefits, available to the public on reasonable terms. In order to ensure diligent pursuit of these obligations, the FED requires universities to provide periodic reports on FFI development. These and other obligations are intended to protect a twice-charged public’s[6] investment and to facilitate public availability.

While university-industry licenses will inevitably vary, universities concerned with the possibility of FFI shelving by an exclusive licensee can safeguard the public’s interest through proper contract drafting. For example, many university technology transfer offices (“TTOs”) use annual fees to motivate licensees to diligently commercialize a FFI. If a fee becomes prohibitively expensive to carry year to year and the licensee is not expected to recoup any costs through FFI commercialization, the licensee would be expected to end the agreement. The TTO could then market the FFI to more diligent licensees. A TTO could also include license milestone payments. Not only do these payments incentivize FFI commercialization, they also provide less financially stable licensees with additional research and manufacturing funds. In either case, these payments and fees are more likely to work for smaller licensees with a good faith intention of making the FFI publicly available. With larger licensees who can afford to carryover such fees, or, in Parker’s case, where shame outweighs commercialization, these solutions may fail to deter intentional shelving.


  1. Power of Termination

Many universities consider the dissemination of knowledge integral to their academic mission, notwithstanding any federal obligations. Any failure by the university or its licensees to pursue such dissemination circumvents this mission and, in the case of FFIs, may lead to BD noncompliance. Accordingly, TTOs often require licensees to provide periodic reports on FFI development and commercialization. These reports may include production milestones, estimated availability and first sales. A licensee’s failure to diligently pursue FFI public availability is often treated as a material breach of the license, which becomes subject to termination.

Assuming ESU patented the cybernetics technology, PI would have had to license the technology from ESU. Moreover, assuming the technology was federally funded, such ESU-PI license likely required PI to comply with certain diligence obligations, including reports on achieving public availability of the cybernetics technology. Because Parker has publicly announced that PI would cease developing the technology, ESU could terminate the license for material breach and save the cybernetics technology.


March of the FED

  1. Promoting the General Welfare

A constitutional objective of the federal government is to promote the general welfare. This objective is reflected in the taxing and spending clause, which allows Congress to collect taxes to “provide for the common defence [sic] and general welfare,” and the intellectual property clause, which allows Congress to grant patents and copyrights to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” Given their economic, academic and societal benefits,[7] the FED’s funding of university research and its granting of patents are instrumental in furthering that objective; provided that these powers are not misused or abused. Intentional FFI shelving forces the public to suffer through a constitutionally protected patent term without benefitting from a FFI’s practical applications and robs the public of the fruits of its tax derived, federally-invested, research dollars.


  1. Promoting Public Availability

A primary objective of BD is to promote “the utilization of inventions arising from federally supported research or development” and their “commercialization and public availability.”[8] To determine whether effective steps have been taken to achieve a FFI’s public availability, the FED requires federally-funded universities and/or their licensees to submit periodic reports on a FFI’s utilization and development,[9] including its production status and date of first commercial sale. If the FED determines that the university or licensee has not taken the necessary steps to achieve practical application of the FFI within a reasonable time, the FED has a duty to the public to exercise its march-in rights and license, or force the university or its licensee to license, the FFI to someone else.

While the FED has yet to enforce its march-in rights under BD, previous march-in petitions were focused on product pricing rather than utilization and public availability. For example, in CellPro, the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) determined that a FFI licensee had achieved practical application because it had licensed the FFI and was manufacturing and operating publicly available FFI products. Additionally, the licensee’s decision to allow petitioner’s continued sale of unlicensed FFI products, which met particular public needs that licensee’s products did not, also evidenced practical application. According to the NIH, granting petitioner compulsory licenses to the FFI would “influence the marketplace for the benefit of a single company” and would have “far-reaching repercussions.”[10] For similar reasons, the NIH refused to march-in on a licensee that offered FFI-based drugs at different prices in different countries. According to Xalatan, the “issue of whether drugs should be sold in the United States for the same price as they are sold in Canada and Europe has global implications and, thus is appropriately left for Congress to address.”[11] The FED’s unwillingness to exercise its authority under BD to alleviate pricing concerns has been echoed in other determinations.[12] However, in each case, the NIH found that the FFI was publicly available or would be made publicly available within a reasonable time.


  1. Marching in

In the event that ESU refuses to take action against Parker and PI, the FED has a duty to exercise its march-in rights against ESU and/or PI. It is clear that public availability of the cybernetics technology has not and will not be achieved in a reasonable time. Unlike previous petitions to the NIH/FED, this is not about product pricing. Parker has publicly declared that PI would be putting the cybernetics technology line on hold indefinitely. There is no question that the “licensee [i.e., Parker Industries] has not taken, or is not expected to take within a reasonable time, effective steps to achieve practical application of the [FFI].” To my knowledge, the cybernetics technology has yet to be developed for public “availability” or “use” and neither Parker nor PI have sublicensed the technology to another. Given the technology’s life-changing benefits and potential, the FED should not allow Octavius’s technology to gather dust on PI shelves and should exercise its march-in rights.



       Patents, like many objects of power, are subject to those who wield them. Many patent holders use their period of exclusivity to recoup development costs or to break into an otherwise competitive space. Some patent holders, however, wield their rights like a troll—waiting in ambush for deep pockets and/or new innovations in order to reap financial gain. In the case of Peter Parker, the technology that enabled Aunt May and Flash Thompson to walk again is simply being ignored out of pride. His decision to shelve the technology robs the public of its financial investment and impedes the general welfare.

Fortunately, there is hope. ESU and the FED can rescue the technology from the Valley of Death and ensure that others may benefit from Octavius’s work. ESU not only has academic principles to uphold but, as a recipient of federal funding, has federal obligations to meet. If ESU does not terminate its exclusive license with PI and otherwise make the technology available to other licensees, ESU could lose its patent rights and subsequent federal funding. Should ESU fail to act, the FED is empowered by BD to promote the utilization of inventions arising from federally supported research and to protect the public against the nonuse or unreasonable use of such inventions. In the event that the public is deprived of access to a FFI for an unreasonable amount of time, the FED is authorized to exercise its march-in rights and to license the technology to a more diligent licensee.

Notwithstanding the wrath of an angry Sanjani, Parker’s failure to achieve practical application of the cybernetics technology will likely have other consequences beyond the termination (or loss) of the ESU exclusive license. PI might face damages for breach of contract, and Parker himself might be liable for mishandling company assets.[13] In any case, Parker’s hubristic decision to shelve Octavius’s life-changing cybernetics technology is not as simple as his public announcement suggests. Therefore, while Octavius may no longer be a part of Peter Parker’s world, ESU and the FED can ensure that Octavius’s superior legacy lives on.


[1] These assumptions describe typical technology transfers. Additionally, I am assuming that Sajani’s and Anna Maria’s continued work on the technology is irrelevant for the scope of this article. Their work has not been approved by Parker or PI. Indeed, they work in secret and have taken great strides to keep it hidden from Parker and the rest of the company. Accordingly, any discussions between Parker, ESU and the FED would be based on Parker’s understanding of the technology’s development, i.e., shelved and no longer pursued.

[2] See generally New York University, University Policies: Statement of Policy on Intellectual Property 1, 4-5 (2012), Columbia University, Appendix D – Statement of Policy on Proprietary Rights in the Intellectual Products of Faculty Activity, and The State University of New York Board of Trustees, Official Compilation of the Codes, Rules, and Regulations of the State of New York, Title J- Patents, Inventions and Copyright Policy § 335.28 (b) (2015).

[3] I am assuming that the technology developed by Octavius and subsequently developed at PI is not the exact technology that drove the villain-Octavius’s arms and that, for patent purposes, the current technology is sufficiently different to warrant patentability.

[4] There is a possibility that Parker was under a similar assignment provision as a Horizon Labs employee. Upon acquisition of Horizon Labs, Tiberius Stone told Octavius that all inventions in production, including Spider-Man technology, were the acquired property of Allan Chemical. However, the cybernetics technology was not then in production. Moreover, it is unclear if Octavius was conducting his research at Horizon Labs or on Spider Island II. Finally, because Stone was fired from Horizon Labs prior to Octavius’s acquisition of Parker’s body, Stone was likely unaware of any cybernetics-related technology Octavius was developing.

[5] Receipt of federal funding does not require universities to retain title. Universities can waive title back to the inventor or to the FED.

[6] The public has paid once in tax dollars and once in suffering a patent monopoly.

[7] Discussed in Part I.

[8] 35 U.S.C. § 200 (2012).

[9] The information required by a university from a licensee in a diligence report often mirrors the information required by the FED.

[10] National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director, Determination in the Case of Petition of CellPro, Inc. 6 (1997).

[11] National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director, In the Case of Xalatan Manufactured by Pfizer, Inc. 6 (2004).

[12] See generally National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director, In the Case of Norvir Manufactured by Abbot Labs., Inc. 4 (2004), and National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director, Determination in the Case of Norvir Manufactured by Abbvie 7 (2013).

[13] Greater discussion of claims against an officer are beyond the scope of this article.

The Superior Spider-Man & The March Across the Valley of Death (Part 1)


(This fantastic guest post, the first of two parts, was written by Anthony Cova, who serves as the Corporate Counsel at Addgene, Inc., a nonprofit plasmid repository, where he handles the company’s legal and technology transfer matters.  The views expressed in these posts are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Addgene.)


Since regaining control of his body from Dr. Otto Octavius following the events of The Superior Spider-Man, Peter Parker has had his hands full reconciling with family, friends and co-workers, and restoring Spider-Man’s credibility with the public and other heroes. Yet, despite all the harm Octavius caused during his tenure as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, he still managed to obtain a Ph.D., found a company and restore Parker’s loved ones’ ability to walk.

Now, the cybernetics technology that freed Aunt May from her cane and Flash Thompson from his wheelchair is at risk. In a recent public address, Parker announced that Parker Industries would be putting its cybernetics line “on hold” to research and develop technologies focused on capturing, imprisoning and depowering super villains. Parker, who does not possess Octavius’s cybernetics knowledge, would rather shelve a proven technology than carry out another’s work. Given the benefits of Octavius’s cybernetics technology, can Parker simply halt its research and development (presumably indefinitely) out of pride and insecurity? Will the public be deprived of invaluable cybernetic prosthetics? Who can rescue the technology from the crumbled shelves of Parker Industries?[1]

In Part I, I will provide a brief overview of technology transfer—its history, objectives, and barriers. Part II will then describe the powers and objectives of Empire State University and the federal government and whether they are sufficient to rescue the cybernetics technology on the public’s behalf.


The Origin Story

In the sweltering summer months of 1787, a conclave of demigods[2] assembled behind bolted doors and shuttered windows at the Pennsylvania State House. Their task: to bandage a hobbling federal government. However, rather than patching the Articles of Confederation, the demigods chose to create an entirely new constitution. Unlike its penniless, toothless predecessor, the 1787 Constitution empowered the federal government to collect taxes “to provide for the common defence [sic] and general welfare;”[3] to grant inventors an exclusive right (a patent) to exclude others from using their inventions for limited periods of time “to promote the progress of science and the useful arts;”[4] and to make all laws “necessary and proper” to “carry[] into execution the foregoing powers.”[5] While these powers strengthened the federal government, they were intended to be exercised to “promote the general welfare.”[6]

Since the conclave’s end, the U.S. has grown into a global, economic power. Recognizing the benefits of “promoting the progress of science and the useful arts” and the need to remain competitive internationally, the federal government, through its various agencies (collectively, the “FED”), began funding university research. Similar to the FED, universities are “conducted for the common good.”[7] They are committed to the education of their students, the pursuit of unbiased research and the dissemination of knowledge to the public. Moreover, as institutes of higher learning, universities have historically served as centers of innovation. Indeed, many products today can be traced back to a university lab notebook or chalkboard.[8] When innovations are transferred from universities to commercial partners and, ultimately, the general public, this process is referred to as “technology transfer.” Unfortunately, despite FED objectives and university academic principles, technology transfer is not always successful.


The Bayh-Dole Act and the Rise of the Technology Transfer Offices

Prior to 1980, title to any patentable innovations developed through government-sponsored contracts or federally funded research (a federally funded invention or “FFI”) typically vested in the FED. This reflected the rationale that research funded by the public belonged to the public. Ironically, only a handful of FFIs ever reached the public. Neither the FED nor the university possessed the necessary resources to develop and commercialize FFIs for public use, and obtaining developmental help from the private sector was often a slow, circuitous process due to the number of funding federal agencies and/or their inconsistent intellectual property policies.[9] Exacerbating FFI unavailability was the fact that some FED agencies offered FFIs on a non-exclusive basis only, believing that non-exclusivity provided the public potentially with greater access. Unsurprisingly, this deterred many in the private sector from investing in and commercializing a FFI. If the public was ever to benefit from the fruits of its tax dollars, legislative and systematic changes were needed.

In 1980, Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act (“BD”) in order “to promote [FFI] commercialization and public availability” and “to protect the public against [FFI] nonuse or unreasonable use.”[10] By granting universities the right to retain title to FFIs, BD allowed universities to facilitate technology transfer transactions on behalf of the FED and to streamline the licensing process. Revenue from these licenses also provided universities additional funds to be reinvested into further research. Since its passage, BD has created thousands of jobs, generated billions of dollars and significantly increased the number of FFIs reaching the public. Nonetheless, the right to retain title is not absolute. BD requires universities to timely file patent applications, to prefer certain licensees and, most importantly, to promote a FFI’s utilization, commercialization and public availability. Universities that fail to comply with these and other obligations risk losing title to FFIs and even future research funds.[11]

With so much at stake, U.S. universities have established special administrative offices, generally referred to as technology transfer offices (“TTOs”), to manage regulatory compliance and advance university policies. TTO operations can typically be divided into three purposes: (1) generate revenue for the university to supplement federal grants; (2) support the university’s research community (e.g., facilitating industrial partnerships, assisting spinout companies, responding to student and faculty intellectual property queries, etc.); and (3) comply with external laws and regulations. While some TTOs may focus their operations on one purpose over another, most TTOs fulfill, to varying degrees, all three. More importantly, as stalwarts of their universities, TTOs are charged with defending and advancing their universities’ core academic principles. TTOs must be vigilant of any hazards that could interfere with a university’s ability to develop and disseminate innovations and knowledge to the public. For example, contract provisions that restrict publication or intellectual discourse amongst faculty are often immediately struck from any collaboration agreement. Licenses that restrict universities’ rights to use an invention for research purposes are often renegotiated, and any agreements that narrow or remove access to research tools are best avoided. Given these academic principles and the BD obligations described above, TTOs have a duty to promote public availability of FFIs and to ensure that the public will ultimately benefit from federally funded university research.


The Valley of Death

Across the commercial plain, nestled between academia and the consuming public, lies the Valley of Death (the “Valley”). Despite the best efforts of countless TTOs, the Valley has claimed many worthwhile innovations. Some FFIs perish along the way for lack of funding—having failed to attract investors or to maintain sufficient cash flows. Others—having been deemed commercially invaluable—may be immediately abandoned at the Valley’s edge. Although lack of funding and investment support are endemic to the Valley, those wishing to guide FFIs through the financial brambles have many tools at their disposal. Universities and local business groups often offer low cost spaces or business incubators for small businesses. Financial programs like the Small Business Innovation Research Program provide federal funds to support the research and commercial development of small business innovations. Even federal laws, such as the Orphan Drug Act, can incentivize commercial investment and development of less marketable technologies. While these and other tools may not always be sufficient to blaze a path through the Valley, TTOs can help FFI licensees appropriately equip themselves for the attempt.

More troubling within the Valley are the surreptitious barbs of patent trolls or the alluring facades of devious competitors. Patent trolls often use broadly written, and sometimes ambiguous, patents to poke at a company’s portfolio in hopes of spearing forced royalties and/or settlement payments. Although many companies may succeed in routing these attacks, they may find they have suffered significant financial lacerations to continue beyond the Valley. Devious competitors, looking to maintain or promote their own technologies, might approach a TTO with alluring exclusive license terms, only to later bury the competing technology within the Valley. While President Obama and various legislators have taken great strides to cull the patent troll population and professional technology transfer organizations have developed best practices to prevent the burying or intentional shelving of exclusively licensed technologies,[12] many innovations continue to languish in the Valley.

In the present case, Parker has simply decided that Parker Industries will no longer pursue the cybernetics technology. The decision to shelve the technology—thereby abandoning it in the Valley—stems from Parker’s hurt pride rather than for lack of funding. Unlike Aunt May and Flash Thompson who benefitted directly by Octavius’s hand, the public may have to wait years before the cybernetics technology finds its way out of the Valley, just because Parker is ashamed that he lacks the necessary cybernetics skills and knowledge. For some members of the public, access to such life-changing technologies may come too late.


To be Continued . . .

Next time, in Part II of this series, we will consider whether the powers and obligations of Empire State University, the university where Octavius earned Parker’s Ph.D., and/or the FED, are sufficient to rescue the technology from Parker Industries on behalf of a needy and ready public.


[1] This article was originally written shortly after the Ghost had destroyed Parker Industries.

[2] Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams (Aug. 30, 1787), in Hilary, Prologue: Pieces of History, The National Archives, Dec. 5, 2012 (referring to the Framers of the Constitution as an “assembly of demigods”).

[3] U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 1.

[4] U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8.

[5] U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 18.

[6] U.S. Const. pmbl.

[7] American Association of University Professors, 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure 14 (1940).

[8] For example, Gatorade was developed at the University of Florida; the algorithms for Google were developed at Stanford University; and the components that produce high-definition television were developed at MIT.

[9] There were 26 different federal agency policies regarding the use of federally funded research at the time of the Bayh-Dole Act’s consideration. U.S. Gen. Accounting Office, GAO-09-742, Information on the Government’s Right to Assert Ownership Control Over Federally Funded Inventions 4 (2009).

[10] 35 U.S.C. § 200.

[11] For example, in Campbell Plastics, the Federal Circuit determined that a federal defense contractor had forfeited its right to retain title under BD for failure to comply with BD’s invention disclosure requirements. Campbell Plastics Engineering & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Brownlee, 389 F.3d 1243 (Fed. Cir., Nov. 10, 2004).

[12] See David Kravets, History Will Remember Obama as the Great Slayer of Patent Trolls, Wired (Mar. 20, 2014) (discussing the various implementations to combat patent trolls including five executive orders issued by President Obama and patent reform legislation introduced in Congress); and AUTM, In the Public Interest: Nine Points to Consider in Licensing University Technology (AUTM, Mar. 6, 2007).

Super Heroines in the Pub

This Monday, September 28th, I will be giving a talk on Batman villains and the insanity defense as part of a Super Heroines, Etc. event here in St. Louis.  Super Heroines, Etc. (aka SHE) is a St. Louis-based 501c3 nonprofit focused on empowering women through educational events, classes, and workshops.  I’m looking forward to it and hope to see many of you there!

Law and the Multiverse Retcon #10

Time for another installment of the Law and the Multiverse Retcons series, in which I discuss changes in the law (or corrections in my analysis) that affect older posts.  Alert readers will notice that there was no Retcon #9.  This is because there are actually two Retcon #6s, and I have decided to retcon the Retcon numbering system as though I had not lost the ability to count to 10 at some point between kindergarten and last year.

This Retcon addresses some of my shortcomings on a recent episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, specifically my discussion of Man of Steel and Superman’s possible civil and criminal liability for the destruction of Metropolis.  I saw the movie when it was released and had forgotten several key plot points that affect the legal analysis.  Thanks to Damon for pointing out these issues!  Some spoilers for Man of Steel follow.

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Uncle Ben at the Supreme Court

Thanks to Joe, Josh, and others for pointing out Justice Kagan’s quotation in yesterday’s decision in Kimble v. Marvel:

What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “Spider-Man,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility”). Finding many reasons for staying the stare decisis course and no “special justification” for departing from it, we decline Kimble’s invitation to overrule Brulotte.

I happen to disagree with the majority’s decision; Brulotte v. Thys was wrongly decided*, and the Court wasted a rare opportunity to correct a mistake.  So on the one hand the citation and other references to Spider-Man were fun, but on the other hand it felt a little too cute by half for a decision that will ultimately result in Marvel (now part of the second largest media company in the world) avoiding royalty payments to an individual inventor whose idea Marvel (apparently) pretty blatantly ripped off.  The tone of the opinion is incongruous with its consequences.

It may seem a little overly dramatic in a case that is ultimately about money, but I am reminded of Robert Cover’s Violence and the Word:

Legal interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death. This is true in several senses. Legal interpretive acts signal and occasion the imposition of violence upon others: A judge articulates her understanding of a text, and as a result, somebody loses his freedom, his property, his children, even his life. Interpretations in law also constitute justifications for violence which has already occurred or which is about to occur. When interpreters have finished their work, they frequently leave behind victims whose lives have been torn apart by these organized, social practices of violence. Neither legal interpretation nor the violence it occasions may be properly understood apart from one another.

This is not to say that all judicial writing should be humorless.  I have enjoyed reading any number of funny, often acerbic opinions, but those opinions were usually written in response to parties that were themselves behaving badly or foolishly, and so deserved to be treated lightly or even mockingly.  In this case, however, the Court has sided with a multi-billion dollar corporation over an individual inventor and did so on fairly technical grounds.  The majority interpreted the law of stare decisis, and as a result Stephen Kimble lost his property (i.e. the contractual right to royalties from sales of the patented toy).  This does not seem like an appropriate occasion for such levity.

Stepping back off my soap box, I promise the next post will return to discussing the legal implications of comic book hijinks.

* A full discussion of why this is the case is beyond the scope of this blog, but if you’re interested, see the dissent in Kimble and Judge Posner’s opinion in Scheiber v. Dolby Labs.

Age of Ultron, Part I

(This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron.  You have been warned.)

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Is Thor an illegal immigrant?

Superman’s immigration status has been considered here before, and recently I received a link (thanks, Rick!) to this great piece: Is The Avengers’ Thor an Illegal Alien?, written by Jake Lipman, an immigration attorney with Lipman & Wolf, LLP.  Check it out!

Nova’s Complex Legal History

Although the Guardians of the Galaxy movie did not feature a specific character identifiable as the superhero Nova (e.g. Richard Rider), it did feature the Nova Corps, and there have been indications that Nova may make an appearance in a sequel.  It turns out that the character of Nova has an interesting legal history, one that attorney Britton Payne has written a great post about on his copyright blog, Copyright On.  Check it out!