According to the ruling, from Judge Robert Sweet of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Marvel broke an agreement to pay Lee 10% of any profit it receives from movies, television, or other uses of his characters. Marvel had argued that the 10% figure should be calculated after significant deductions.
"I am very gratified by the Judge's decision although, since I am deeply fond of Marvel and the people there, I sincerely regret that the situation had to come to this," said Lee yesterday.
Stan Lee began working for Marvel in 1939 and remained there for over 60 years, ultimately becoming chairman emeritus for the company after his retirement. He is now 82.
Lee was instrumental in the creation of many successful characters, including The Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Daredevil and Spider-Man – creations that breathed new life into the comic book format, portraying the characters as not simply superheroes, but also as people grappling with the everyday difficulties of family, work and friends.
In 1998 Lee entered into a profit-sharing venture with Marvel. This allowed the company to use his characters and name in return for a 10% participation in the profits derived from productions using the Marvel characters, including the Spider-Man films and television shows.
However, according to the suit filed by Lee in November 2002, Marvel failed and refused to honour its commitments to him, despite reaping enormous benefits from his creations. Spider-Man 2 alone has taken over $780 million at the box office. Accordingly, Lee sought damages for breach.
Marvel argued that accountancy rules meant that Lee was only due 10% of the profits after the costs of production and distribution had been deducted.
Ruling for Lee on 17th January, Judge Sweet said that Marvel must pay 10% of its profits from the productions since November 1998. He declined to rule on certain merchandising rights, an element of the dispute that may go before a jury.
According to reports, Marvel intends to appeal.