John Wiley & Sons v. McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff (MBHB) (N.D. Ill.) (Complaint)
Earlier this year, Wiley sued the MBHB law firm for copyright infringement. The basis of the lawsuit stems from the firm's compliance with its duty to inform the USPTO of information materially related to the cases that it is handling. See 37 C.F.R. 1.56. The complaint identifies two short scientific articles that the firm submitted to the USPTO:
- Raznikov, V., et al., "A new approach to data reduction and evaluation in high resolution time-of-flight mass spectrometry using a time-to-digital convertor data recording 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 two dimensional photonic crystal in a semiconductor light-emitting diode," Applied Physics Letters, vol. 78, No. 5, pp. 563-565 (2001).
The crux of Wiley's argument is that the firm infringed Wiley's exclusive rights by submitting these documents to the USPTO as well as by allegedly sharing the articles with the inventors and storing a copy in the firm's files. I contacted one of the authors – Nobel Laureate, Dr. Alan Heeger – from the parallel Schwegman case. Dr Heeger had not previously heard of the lawsuits. He had only two comments: (1) that the lawsuits seem "somewhat strange" and (2) that he is not receiving any royalties from the article.
The MBHB law firm has now filed its answer to the complaint – arguing that Wiley's lawsuit is both troubling and disruptive to the operation of the US patent system.
Plaintiffs seek in this case to create unprecedented liability for law firms filing patent applications that would change long established practices in fulfilling legal obligations under the Patent Law and Regulations requiring patent practitioners to disclose prior art to the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO"). Such a result would undermine the Patent Office's ability to get full disclosure of relevant prior art to the detriment of our patent system and, thus, to innovation in general. Fortunately, Plaintiffs' claims are without merit.
The process of securing U.S. patents is dictated by complicated USPTO Rules and Federal regulations. Failure to comply with those Rules and Regulations could lead, among other things, to fraud on the USPTO and could jeopardize a patent's scope, validity and enforceability. . . .
Now, Plaintiffs John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. and American Institute of Physics ("Plaintiffs") attempt to introduce a costly new requirement into this long-standing practice. They seek to impose a requirement on those practicing patent prosecution to negotiate a license with the holder of the copyright in the journals before complying with the Patent Office's prior art submission requirements. Plaintiffs' misguided attempt to change established practice will only serve to undermine the full disclosure requirements of the USPTO and interfere with access to the constitutionally mandated patent system.
Because of the negative impact of claims such as the Plaintiffs' on the patent system, and thus on its goal of encouraging innovation, the Patent Office has taken the unusual step of posting on its website a position paper from Bernard J. Knight, Jr., General Counsel of the USPTO, stating the USPTO's position that copying and submitting non-patent literature ("NPL") by patent applicants in order to satisfy the USPTO's disclosure requirements is fair use. The official position paper addressed all four fair use factors and concluded that "we believe that it is a fair use for an applicant to make copies of NPL and submit those copies to the USPTO during examination in an [Information Disclosure Statement]." The General Counsel's position was based in part on the fact that "the applicants here are not 'exploiting' the copyrighted work, and are instead merely submitting it, pursuant to a legal requirement, based on its factual, rather than its expressive, content [and] the use could be considered transformative." The General Counsel also concluded that "there is no basis for concluding that the applicants submission of NPL to the USPTO has any significant negative impact on the market for the submitted NPL."
Plaintiffs' attempt to characterize MBHB's alleged use of the scientific journal articles as anything but a legal, customary practice by attorneys to comply with their legal obligations during patent prosecution is unavailing. MBHB is being sued simply for following the requirements of the patent regulations. An adverse judgment against MBHB would harm not just MBHB, but all firms who practice in this area, and interfere with the federal government's interest in promoting an inexpensive and efficient patent system whereby prior art is appropriately disclosed. Plaintiffs' allegations, thus, fit squarely within the parameters of what the Copyright Act deems as a fair use. Accordingly, as a matter of law, Plaintiffs lack meritorious grounds for their copyright infringement suit.
The answer claims includes a number of defenses including fair use; copyright misuse; immunity under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine; and implied license.