MPEP 2128.01
Level of Public Accessibility Required

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

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2128.01    Level of Public Accessibility Required [R-07.2015]

I.    A THESIS PLACED IN A UNIVERSITY LIBRARY MAY BE PRIOR ART IF SUFFICIENTLY ACCESSIBLE TO THE PUBLIC

A doctoral thesis indexed and shelved in a library is sufficiently accessible to the public to constitute prior art as a "printed publication." In re Hall, 781 F.2d 897, 228 USPQ 453 (Fed. Cir. 1986). Even if access to the library is restricted, a reference will constitute a "printed publication" as long as a presumption is raised that the portion of the public concerned with the art would know of the invention. In re Bayer, 568 F.2d 1357, 196 USPQ 670 (CCPA 1978).

In In re Hall, general library cataloging and shelving practices showed that a doctoral thesis deposited in university library would have been indexed, cataloged and shelved and thus available to the public before the critical date. Compare In re Cronyn, 890 F.2d 1158, 13 USPQ2d 1070 (Fed. Cir. 1989) wherein doctoral theses were shelved and indexed by index cards filed alphabetically by student name and kept in a shoe box in the chemistry library. The index cards only listed the student name and title of the thesis. In Cronyn, the court held that the students’ theses were not accessible to the public. The court reasoned that the theses had not been either cataloged or indexed in a meaningful way since thesis could only be found if the researcher’s name was known, but the name bears no relationship to the subject of the thesis. Notably, a dissenting judge, in Cronyn, indicated that since the theses were shelved in the library, it was enough to make them sufficiently accessible to the public. The nature of the index was not determinative. The dissenting judge relied on prior Board decisions (Gulliksen v. Halberg, 75 USPQ 252, 257 (Bd. App. 1937) and Ex parte Hershberger, 96 USPQ 54, 56 (Bd. App. 1952)), which held that shelving a single copy in a public library makes the work a "printed publication." While these Board decisions have not been expressly overruled, they have been criticized in other decisions. See In re Tenney, 254 F.2d 619, 117 USPQ 348 (CCPA 1958) (concurring opinion by J.Rich) (A document, of which there is but one copy, whether it be handwritten, typewritten or on microfilm, may be technically accessible to anyone who can find it. Such a document is not "printed" in the sense that a printing press has been used to reproduce the document. If only technical accessibility were required "logic would require the inclusion within the term [printed] of all unprinted public documents for they are all ‘accessible.’ While some tribunals have gone quite far in that direction, as in the ‘college thesis cases’ I feel they have done so unjustifiably and on the wrong theory. Knowledge is not in the possession of the public where there has been no dissemination, as distinguished from technical accessibility..." The real significance of the word "printed" is grounded in the "probability of wide circulation."). See also Deep Welding, Inc. v. Sciaky Bros., 417 F.2d 1227, 163 USPQ 144 (7th Cir. 1969) (calling the holding of Ex parte Hershberger "extreme"). Compare In re Bayer, 568 F.2d 1357, 196 USPQ 670 (CCPA 1978) (A reference will constitute a "printed publication" as long as a presumption is raised that the portion of the public concerned with the art would know of the invention even if accessibility is restricted to only this part of the public. But accessibility to applicant’s thesis was restricted to only three members of a graduate committee. There can be no presumption that those concerned with the art would have known of the invention in this case.).

II.    ORALLY PRESENTED PAPER CAN CONSTITUTE A "PRINTED PUBLICATION" IF WRITTEN COPIES ARE AVAILABLE WITHOUT RESTRICTION

A paper which is orally presented in a forum open to all interested persons constitutes a "printed publication" if written copies are disseminated without restriction. Massachusetts Institute of Technology v. AB Fortia, 774 F.2d 1104, 1109, 227 USPQ 428, 432 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (Paper orally presented to between 50 and 500 persons at a scientific meeting open to all persons interested in the subject matter, with written copies distributed without restriction to all who requested, is a printed publication. Six persons requested and obtained copies.). An oral presentation at a scientific meeting or a demonstration at a trade show may be prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) ’s provision: "otherwise available to the public." See MPEP § 2152.02(e).

III.    INTERNAL DOCUMENTS INTENDED TO BE CONFIDENTIAL ARE NOT "PRINTED PUBLICATIONS"

Documents and items only distributed internally within an organization which are intended to remain confidential are not "printed publications" no matter how many copies are distributed. There must be an existing policy of confidentiality or agreement to remain confidential within the organization. Mere intent to remain confidential is insufficient. In re George, 2 USPQ2d 1880 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1987) (Research reports disseminated in-house to only those persons who understood the policy of confidentiality regarding such reports are not printed publications even though the policy was not specifically stated in writing.); Garret Corp. v. United States, 422 F.2d 874, 878, 164 USPQ 521, 524 (Ct. Cl.1970) ("While distribution to government agencies and personnel alone may not constitute publication... distribution to commercial companies without restriction on use clearly does."); Northern Telecom Inc. v. Datapoint Corp., 908 F.2d 931, 15 USPQ2d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (Four reports on the AESOP-B military computer system which were not under security classification were distributed to about fifty organizations involved in the AESOP-B project. One document contained the legend "Reproduction or further dissemination is not authorized." The other documents were of the class that would contain this legend. The documents were housed in Mitre Corporation’s library. Access to this library was restricted to those involved in the AESOP-B project. The court held that public access was insufficient to make the documents "printed publications.").

IV.    PUBLICLY DISPLAYED DOCUMENTS CAN CONSTITUTE A "PRINTED PUBLICATION" EVEN IF THE DURATION OF DISPLAY IS FOR ONLY A FEW DAYS AND THE DOCUMENTS ARE NOT DISSEMINATED BY COPIES OR INDEXED IN A LIBRARY OR DATABASE

A publicly displayed document where persons of ordinary skill in the art could see it and are not precluded from copying it can constitute a "printed publication," even if it is not disseminated by the distribution of reproductions or copies and/or indexed in a library or database. As stated in In re Klopfenstein, 380 F.3d 1345, 1348, 72 USPQ2d 1117, 1119 (Fed. Cir. 2004), "the key inquiry is whether or not a reference has been made ‘publicly accessible.’" Prior to the critical date, a fourteen-slide presentation disclosing the invention was printed and pasted onto poster boards. The printed slide presentation was displayed with no confidentiality restrictions for approximately three cumulative days at two different industry events. Id. at 1347, 72 USPQ2d at 1118. The court noted that "an entirely oral presentation at a scientific conference that includes neither slides nor copies of the presentation is without question not a 'printed publication' for the purposes of [pre-AIA] 35 U.S.C. § 102(b). Furthermore, a presentation that includes a transient display of slides is likewise not necessarily a ‘printed publication.’" Id. at 1349 n.4, 72 USPQ2d at 1120 n.4. In resolving whether or not a temporarily displayed reference that was neither distributed nor indexed was nonetheless made sufficiently publicly accessible to count as a "printed publication" under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), the court considered the following factors: "the length of time the display was exhibited, the expertise of the target audience, the existence (or lack thereof) of reasonable expectations that the material displayed would not be copied, and the simplicity or ease with which the material displayed could have been copied." Id. at 1350, 72 USPQ2d at 1120. Upon reviewing the above factors, the court concluded that the display "was sufficiently publicly accessible to count as a ‘printed publication.’" Id. at 1352, 72 USPQ2d at 1121. See also Diomed, Inc. v. Angiodynamics, 450 F.Supp.2d 130 (D. Mass. 2006)(a video that accompanied oral presentations in Austria, Belgium, France, and Italy was held not a printed publication).

Note that an oral presentation at a scientific meeting or a demonstration at a trade show may be prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) ’s provision: "otherwise available to the public." See MPEP § 2152.02(e).