The recent Suffolk Tech v. AOL and Google decision of the CAFC in USA has a lot of interesting comments on what is accessible to the public and what is a publication (http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/13-1392.Opinion.5-22-2014.1.PDF).
The words of the statute ( 35 U.S.C. 102(a) (pre-AIA) ) are:
……. described in a printed publication…..
Since the 1952 date when this came into force all sorts of different ways have appeared to make information available to the public such as poster sessions, emails, websites, databases etc. Do all of these meet the requirement of being a „printed publication“?
In the case in point the invention was described in a 1995 UseNet newsgroup post posted by a college student. One reason why the case is interesting is to compare it with the EPO’s approach to internet publications.
In its decision affirming the publication the CAFC relied upon :
- Case law had not placed much importance in the word „printed“. Various references were cited such as “Because there
are many ways in which a reference may be disseminated to the interested public, „public accessibility“ has been
called the touchstone in determining whether a reference constitutes a „printed publication“ bar under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b).” SRI Int’l, Inc., 511 F.3d at 1194 (quoting In re Hall, 781 F.2d 897, 898–99 (Fed. Cir. 1986)). “
- The record indicated that at the time, only people with access to a university or corporate computer could use newsgroups. BUT this subset of people would be more likely to be skilled in the art.
- There was no difficulty in finding the post because although not fully indexed, the UseNet group was structured in a hierarchical manner that would have allowed someone interested in the topic to identify the particular group and read the posts.
- The information had been sufficiently disseminated as the post in question resulted in at least six responses in the week following the publication.
This level of detail is usually not required for a disclosure at the EPO. The EPO tends more to decide whether a document was available to the public – actual access by the public not being required.