US Law

Colbert and Stewart: Copyright fair dealing

Have you ever wondered how Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart can reproduce news clips without being sued for copyright infringement?

Just because something is under copyright doesn’t mean it cannot be copied or used by someone other than the author. Colbert and Stewart, as pundits who report on current events, criticize and perform parodies and satire, can rightly claim “fair use” under US copyright law in their use of news clips on their shows to avoid copyright infringement.

Similar to fair use in the US, under the fair dealing provisions of the Canadian Copyright Act, the Canadian general public can also use a copyrighted work without infringing copyright.

In general, fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, criticism or review, or news reporting does not infringe copyright.  As long as the reproduction was “fair”, there is no copyright infringement.

The second step, whether the dealing is fair, depends on the facts of each case.  In CCH v. LSUC, 2004 SCC 13, the Supreme Court of Canada set out six non-exhaustive factors to determine whether a dealing is “fair”:

  1. the purpose of the dealing;
  2. the character of the dealing;
  3. the amount of the dealing;
  4. alternatives to the dealing;
  5. the nature of the work; and
  6. the effect of the dealing on the work.

These “fairness” factors mean that, for example, a wholesale copying of an entire show would probably not be considered “fair”, even if it was for the purpose of news reporting or criticism. But it does allow for short reproductions of clips a few seconds long, just like the clips reproduced on The Daily Show or the Colbert Report.

 

US patent system moves to first-to-file

Today, H.R. 1249, the America Invents Act, passed the US House of Representatives. The US Senate had passed a similar bill (S. 23) in March.

The pair of bills have some differences between them that needs to be resolved, but together they present a broad change to the way the US patent system works.

Currently, the US remains one of the few countries in the world where patents are awarded based on whoever first invents a claimed invention. This is called “first-to-invent” and has created an environment where there is a lack of incentive for inventors to file patents. Encouraging inventors to file patents and disclose their invention to the public in return for a time-limited monopoly is a policy objective of patent law, since the advancement of science relies on building upon what is already known. As Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants”.

With the new reforms, the US moves to a “first-to-file” system in which a patent is awarded to the inventor who files for a patent first.  This provides an incentive for inventors to file patents as soon as they make an invention in order to prevent any subsequent person who independently makes the same invention from acquiring patent rights.

Canada already uses the “first-to-file” system, and has been using such a system since 1989.

The drive to determine what is patentable

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., on the issue of whether or not methods of medical diagnosis are patentable in the US.

Closer to home, tomorrow is the appeal hearing for Amazon v. Canada, Federal Court File A-435-10, in which Amazon seeks to have the Court of Appeal confirm that methods of doing business (such as a method of doing “1-click” shopping online in this case) are patentable in Canada. We should see a decision from the Court within a year.

These are exciting times for the patent bar as well as for scientists worldwide, as these decisions can affect many companies’ R&D directions in the coming years.

The evidentiary standard for challenging US patent validity

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court wrapped up oral arguments for Microsoft Corporation v. i4i Limited Partnership, in which i4i sued Microsoft for patent infringement. This case has attracted worldwide attention, not only because the infringing product (MS Word) is widely used, but also because the Supreme Court’s ruling will determine the evidentiary standard to which the validity of all US patents will be determined in the future.

Under 35 U.S.C. § 282, an issued patent is presumed to be valid (in other words, it’s assumed to be novel and non-obvious).  Since the 1980s, the Court of Appeal has held that this presumption of validity may only be rebutted with evidence meeting a “clear and convincing” standard.

Microsoft, having lost at the trial level and at the Court of Appeal, argues that the “clear and convincing” standard is too high and that the correct standard should be the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard.  Microsoft argues that the requirement for “clear and convincing” evidence was a requirement made solely by the Court of Appeal and was not the intent of Congress.

i4i, as the patent holder in this case, argues that maintaining the “clear and convincing” standard is necessary for protecting American innovation and inventors, and that Congress had implicitly endorsed the “clear and convincing” standard forwarded by the Court of Appeal by not enacting a law saying otherwise.

As an added twist, the specific evidence that Microsoft now seeks to introduce in order to argue that i4i’s patent is invalid was not previously considered by the US Patent Office during the prosecution of the patent application.  Thus, the Supreme Court may end up treating evidence previously considered by the US Patent Office differently than evidence not previously seen by the US Patent Office.

Despite the rhetoric about protecting American innovation, I think a certain amount of deference is due if the evidence introduced was already considered by the Patent Office during prosecution.  In my view, the higher “clear and convincing” standard should apply to evidence previously considered during prosecution, while the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard should apply for evidence not previously considered by the Patent Office.

A decision is expected from the US Supreme Court before the end of June 2011. Chief Justice Roberts recused himself, so the case will be decided by the remaining eight justices.  If the Supreme Court splits 4-4 then the “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard stands.

%d bloggers like this: