From the Patently-O blog:
A number of scientific journals have begun to threaten law firms and their clients for submitting copies of journal articles to the USPTO. The typical cease & desist letter that I’ve seen says something like the following:
“We’ve been trolling through USPTO records and found that you submitted a copy of one of our articles articles to the USPTO and we suspect that you maintained other copies in your files and distributed additional copies within your organization. These actions constitute copyright infringement and are not fair use. We will sue you unless you come into compliance with our CCC licensing scheme.”
To be clear, the focus in the letter is on copies being submitted to the USPTO as well as copies retained in the file and distributed internally.
I looked-into the CCC automated licensing system and found that they offered the right to make copies of a NATURE article (one of the journals taking action) for $32 per copy.
USPTO Response: In a surprisingly bold statement, the USPTO’s General Counsel Bernie Knight released a statement late last week indicating the USPTO’s belief that submission of unlicensed copies of copyrighted materials to the USPTO for the purpose of complying with Rule 56 cannot create copyright liability because that action is fair use under 17 U.S.C. 107.
The statement memo is available below, or from the USPTO Web site. [pdf]