- John Wiley & Sons and American Institute of Physics v. McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff (MBHB) (N.D. Ill.) (Complaint)
- American Institute of Physics and John Wiley & Sons v. Schwegman Ludberg (D.Minn) (Complaint)
The Hoboken publishing company (John Wiley) and the non-profit American Institute of Physics have continued their quest to pursue copyright infringement charges against US patent attorneys who submit copies of journal articles to the US Patent Office during the patent application process. The submission of those documents is required by law and attorneys who fail to submit known and relevant prior art can be subject to ethics charges and the associated patents held unenforceable. Earlier this year, the US Patent Office issued a memo indicating its belief that copying and submitting copyrighted documents should be considered a non-actionable fair use. Firms already pay for access to the articles and the USPTO also has its own access to most of the articles. The issue is whether the patent applicants must pay an additional fee for making a copy for the USPTO and an additional copy for the in-house file.
The first two law suits were filed yesterday. The first against my former law firm MBHB LLP in Chicago and the second against the Schwegman firm in Minnesota. These two firms are known for the high level of scientific and technical expertise of their attorneys. (Full Disclosure – MBHB is the primary advertiser on Patently-O)
The complaints allege two particular infringing acts:
14. In connection with researching, filing and prosecuting certain patent applications, McDonnell made and/or distributed to the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO"), and perhaps others, unauthorized copies of copyrighted articles from plaintiffs' journals … Such unauthorized copies were used for the commercial benefit of defendants and their clients.
15. Upon information and belief, defendants made (a) additional copies of the copyrighted works that defendants included or cited in their patent applications to the PTO, including those identified on Schedule A, and (b) copies of plaintiffs' copyrighted works that defendants considered in connection with those applications, but did not ultimately cite or provide to the PTO. Plaintiffs cannot know the full extent of defendants' copying without discovery. Apart from the copying of plaintiffs' works accompanying the patent filings described above, this internal copying infringes plaintiffs' copyrights.
In his article for PaidContent, Jeff Roberts sees these two as "a test-run. . . . If the firms fold their cards and settle, John Wiley and the physicists may be emboldened." (See also Zach Winnick at Law360).
In the complaint, Wiley identifies two articles that MBHB allegedly submitted to the USPTO:
- Raznikov, V., et al., "A new approach to data reduction and evaluation in highresolution time-of-flight mass spectrometry using a time-to-digital convertor datarecording system," Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 570-578 (2001); and
- Erchak, A., et al., "Enhanced coupling to vertical radiation using a twodimensional photonic crystal in a semiconductor light-emitting diode," Applied Physics Letters, vol. 78, No. 5, pp. 563-565 (2001).
The complaint in the Schwegman case are based upon these two articles:
- McDonald S., et al., "Photoconductivity from PbS- nanocrystal/ semiconducting polymer composites for solution-processible, quantum-size tunable infrared photodetectors," Applied Physics Letters, vol. 85, No. 11, XP012062554, ISSN: 0003-6951, pp. 2089-2091, (Sep. 13, 2004); and
- Greenwald, et al., "Polymer-Polymer Rectifying Heterojunction Based on Poly(3,4-dicyanothiophene) and MEH-PPV," J. Polym. Sci. A: Polym. Chem., vol. 36:17, pp. 3115-3120, (1998).
I have contacted the authors of each of these articles, but have not yet received any response. MBHB's managing partner Marcus Thymian released a statement referring to the USPTO's position on fair use. "We note that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has released its position -- that it is a fair use for a patent applicant to submit a copy of non-patent art to the patent office to fulfill the disclosure requirement imposed by the patent regulations." It will also be easy for the law firms to obtain an opinion that internal copying also qualifies as a fair use under Section 107 of the Copyright Act.
In a statement to Law360, the plaintiffs attorney Bill Dunnegan appears ready to admit - despite language in the complaint – that submissions to the USPTO are not actionable. He is quoted as saying "The crux of what our case deals with is the internal copying by the law firms after they have one copy in their hand. . . . Those copies are not licensed, and the patent office didn't take a position on whether or not fair use would apply to those copies." The copy-for-file issue seems to fall in line with the Supreme Court's analysis in Sony v. Universal (1984). In that case, the court held that it was a fair use for home consumers to record television broadcasts so the consumers could view the shows at a later time.
- Submitting Citations: Several years ago, the USPTO realized that it already had copies of all issued US patents within its in house databases and asked patent practitioners to stop sending-in copies of patents. Rather, the patent attorneys were asked to simply submit a list of US patent documents that materially related to the patent being examined. To the extent that the USPTO already has access to many of the publications in question here, a similar solution could work that allows patent practitioners to simply submit the citation to articles within the USPTO databases.
- Open Access: Depending upon pricing structure, access to a journal such as the Journal of Applied Physics costs as much as $15k per year. Academic authors generally receive no compensation for publication and there is a growing movement amongst academia toward open access journals. Almost all law reviews make their works freely available online. This enforcement project may push the sciences in that direction as well.