Fair Use Ruling For Patent-Prosecution Firm’s Article Copying
Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Keyes recently issued a Report and Recommendation granting summary judgment of fair use in a case that involves a copyright infringement claim against a patent-prosecution firm. In the process of prosecuting patents for its clients, the firm copied several of the publishers’ copyrighted scientific journal articles from a USPTO database and other sources, and publishers sued for copyright infringement.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Keyes ruled that the firm’s copying constitutes fair use. This is the result urged by the USPTO, which intervened in the case. The court weighed each of the four fair-use factors, of § 107, (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. As to the first factor, the court concluded that the firm did not use the articles for the same purpose as the publishers. Regarding the second factor, the court reasoned that because the articles were primarily technical rather than creative, they were farther from the “core” of copyright protection. The third factor was the most interesting: even though the firm copied the entirety of each article, the court concluded that this factor still favored a finding of fair use because the copying was consistent with the purpose and character of the firm’s new and different use. As to the fourth factor, the court reasoned that publishers failed to show that the firm’s use of the articles to meet their PTO-disclosure obligations affected the traditional target market for the articles.
The meat of the court’s policy consideration is as follows:
Finally, Schwegman’s copying of the Articles and its use of those copies for the purpose of supporting its clients’ patent applications also “promote[d] the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” U.S. Const., art. I, § 8, cl. 8, which is the very purpose of the Copyright Act. Uses of copyrighted work that fulfill that purpose include “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching . . ., scholarship, or research.” 17 U.S.C. § 107. Though they borrow from a copyrighted work, criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research all have the potential, under certain circumstances, to benefit the public by furthering the understanding of ideas or discoveries highlighted in a copyrighted work. And like each of these listed uses, Schwegman’s use of the Articles in connection with its clients’ patent applications confers a public benefit as well.
This is a case to watch. Because this ruling is a Report and Recommendation, the publishers have the right to seek review of it by filing an objection with the District Court judge. If the ruling stands, the legal community—not just patent-prosecution firms—will be the among the primary beneficiaries. Lawyers of all stripes have ethical duties that require them to duplicate documents that may be subject to copyright. This ruling provides some relief that these practices will not be necessarily be infringement.