On May 27, 2014, the Federal Circuit affirmed a decision granting summary judgment of invalidity by the Eastern District of Virginia holding that a nearly 20-year-old post in an online newsgroup was a printed publication and therefore constituted prior art that anticipated the claims of the asserted patent. The 1995 post, authored by a college student, appeared on a message board about computer programming in respond to a question about how to perform a function that was described in the patent-in-suit. The appellant argued that the message board post was too difficult for one of ordinary skill to locate, the intended audience for the post did not encompass those of ordinary skill in the art, and the post was not sufficiently publically accessible to be considered a printed publication because it was not indexed and not searchable. The Federal Circuit, however, held that those of ordinary skill in the art were using such newsgroups because "at the time, only people with access to a university or corporate computer could use newsgroups, a subset of people more likely to be skilled in the art." The Federal Circuit further held that a printed publication need not be easily searchable to serve as a prior art reference, only that the publication be sufficiently disseminated. The message board post elicited responses from other newsgroup members, and the Federal Circuit held that the post was sufficiently disseminated to those of ordinary skill in the art to be publicly accessible. Accordingly, the decision granting summary judgment of invalidity was affirmed.
Suffolk Techs., LLC, v. AOL Inc. et al., Case no. 2013-1392 (Fed. Cir. May 27, 2014 [Prost (opinion), Rader, Chen]