MPEP 2128
"Printed Publications" as Prior Art

This is the Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 08.2017, Last Revised in January 2018

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2128    "Printed Publications" as Prior Art [R-08.2017]


A reference is proven to be a "printed publication" "upon a satisfactory showing that such document has been disseminated or otherwise made available to the extent that persons interested and ordinarily skilled in the subject matter or art, exercising reasonable diligence, can locate it." In re Wyer, 655 F.2d 221, 210 USPQ 790 (CCPA 1981) (quoting I.C.E. Corp. v. Armco Steel Corp., 250 F. Supp. 738, 743, 148 USPQ 537, 540 (SDNY 1966)) ("We agree that ‘printed publication’ should be approached as a unitary concept. The traditional dichotomy between ‘printed’ and ‘publication’ is no longer valid. Given the state of technology in document duplication, data storage, and data retrieval systems, the ‘probability of dissemination’ of an item very often has little to do with whether or not it is ‘printed’ in the sense of that word when it was introduced into the patent statutes in 1836. In any event, interpretation of the words ‘printed’ and ‘publication’ to mean ‘probability of dissemination’ and ‘public accessibility’ respectively, now seems to render their use in the phrase ‘printed publication’ somewhat redundant.") In re Wyer, 655 F.2d at 226, 210 USPQ at 794.

See also Carella v. Starlight Archery, 804 F.2d 135, 231 USPQ 644 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (Starlight Archery argued that Carella’s patent claims to an archery sight were anticipated under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) by an advertisement in a Wisconsin Bow Hunter Association (WBHA) magazine and a WBHA mailer prepared prior to Carella’s filing date. However, there was no evidence as to when the mailer was received by any of the addressees. Plus, the magazine had not been mailed until 10 days after Carella’s filing date. The court held that since there was no proof that either the advertisement or mailer was accessible to any member of the public before the filing date there could be no rejection under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a).).


A.    Status as a "Printed Publication"

An electronic publication, including an online database or Internet publication (e.g. discussion group, forum, digital video, and social media post), is considered to be a "printed publication" within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) and pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) and (b) provided the publication was accessible to persons concerned with the art to which the document relates. See In re Wyer, 655 F.2d 221, 227, 210 USPQ 790, 795 (CCPA 1981) ("Accordingly, whether information is printed, handwritten, or on microfilm or a magnetic disc or tape, etc., the one who wishes to characterize the information, in whatever form it may be, as a ‘printed publication’... should produce sufficient proof of its dissemination or that it has otherwise been available and accessible to persons concerned with the art to which the document relates and thus most likely to avail themselves of its contents.’" (citations omitted).). See also v., 73 F. Supp. 2d 1228, 53 USPQ2d 1115, 1119 (W.D. Wash. 1999) (Pages from a website were relied on by defendants as an anticipatory reference (to no avail), however status of the reference as prior art was not challenged.); In re Epstein, 32 F.3d 1559, 31 USPQ2d 1817 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (Database printouts of abstracts which were not themselves prior art publications were properly relied as providing evidence that the software products referenced therein were "first installed" or "released" more than one year prior to applicant’s filing date.); Suffolk Tech v. AOL and Google, 752 F.3d 1358, 110 USPQ2d 2034 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (A newsgroup posting constituted prior art as it was directed to those having ordinary skill in the art and was publicly accessible because the post was sufficiently disseminated.)

The Office policy requiring recordation of the field of search and search results (see MPEP § 719.05) weighs in favor of finding that Internet and online database references cited by the examiner are "accessible to persons concerned with the art to which the document relates and thus most likely to avail themselves of its contents." Wyer, 655 F.2d at 221, 210 USPQ at 790. Office copies of an electronic document must be retained if the same document may not be available for retrieval in the future. This is especially important for sources such as the Internet and online databases.

B.    Date of Availability

Prior art disclosures on the Internet or on an online database are considered to be publicly available as of the date the item was publicly posted. Absent evidence of the date that the disclosure was publicly posted, if the publication itself does not include a publication date (or retrieval date), it cannot be relied upon as prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) and pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) or (b). However, it may be relied upon to provide evidence regarding the state of the art. Examiners may ask the Scientific and Technical Information Center to find the earliest date of publication or posting. See MPEP § 901.06(a), subsection IV.G.

C.    Extent of Teachings Relied Upon

An electronic publication, like any publication, may be relied upon for all that it would have reasonably suggested to one having ordinary skill in the art. See MPEP § 2121.01 and § 21.3. Note, however, that if an electronic document which is the abstract of a patent or printed publication is relied upon in a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 102 or 35 U.S.C. 103, only the text of the abstract (and not the underlying document) may be relied upon to support the rejection. In situations where the electronic version and the published paper version of the same or a corresponding patent or printed publication differ appreciably, each may need to be cited and relied upon as independent references based on what they disclose.

D.    Internet Usage Policy

See MPEP § 904.02(c) for the portions of the Internet Usage Policy pertaining to Internet searching and documenting search strategies. See MPEP § 707.05 for the proper citation of electronic documents.


One need not prove someone actually looked at a publication when that publication is accessible to the public through a library or patent office. See In re Wyer, 655 F.2d 221, 210 USPQ 790 (CCPA 1981); In re Hall, 781 F.2d 897, 228 USPQ 453 (Fed. Cir. 1986).