Since my original post back in 2009, I've come across a few more cases where the Applicant tried to disqualify a reference on the basis of its retrieval via the Wayback Machine. Generally, it's a losing battle: as long as the Examiner identifies the page and retrieval date in the proper manner, the Board views such references as "printed publications" under § 102(b) or § 102(a). In today's post, I'll discuss a few of these Board decisions, and highlight some unpersuasive arguments made by Applicants.
To qualify as a "printed publication," case law requires that the reference be disseminated to persons in the art. For example, MPEP § 2128 states that "[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)."
In Ex parte Rowse, the Applicant attacked the Examiner's use of the Wayback Machine on this basis. The Applicant argued that "the Examiner has provided no evidence that the Xactware reference qualifies as a printed publication other than asserting that 'the Internet Archive is a tool used to access internet pages that were published and publicly accessible in the well-documented past.' " Next, the Applicant referred to the "dissemination" requirement in MPEP § 2128, and then continued as follows:
Regarding "public dissemination," pages on the World Wide Web are not "disseminated" - they are "browsed" using a "Web browser" - the antithesis of dissemination. Many web pages are never even browsed. Regardless, the Examiner has submitted no evidence to show that the Xactware reference was ever "disseminated" to members of the public, or "browsed" by members of the public, prior to the applicants' date of invention. Regarding "public availability," the Examiner has made no showing that the Xactware reference was catalogued, indexed or searchable in any publically-available database prior to the applicants' date of invention.The Board in Rowse found that the Examiner had made a prima facie case of the reference's status as prior art. The Board did not specifically address the dissemination argument, addressing instead the general argument that the Examiner had not provided evidence of publication. The Board first noted that in an ex parte proceeding, the rules of evidence are relaxed when demonstrating prima facie unpatentability. The Board then explained that
The Examiner's Answer noted that Applicant had not provided any evidence to demonstrate that the archive date was invalid or that the web page was not accessible to persons of skill in the art. The Applicant filed a Reply Brief stating that:
Electronic documents are archived on the Wayback Machine and are dated as of the archived date of the website. Appellants do not indicate that the archive date provided for FFHD by the Wayback Machine was generated other than in the normal course of operation of this site. There is no indication that this date was arbitrarily assigned or that the origin of document itself is suspect.The Applicant in Hicks also tried another argument, characterizing the "URL date indicated by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine" as "nothing more than a third party assertion."
A publication date cannot be established based on an uncorroborated third party assertion unsupported by any affidavit or declaration. If all that was required to establish a publication date was a third party assertion unsupported by any affidavit or declaration, then any reference could be turned into prior art merely by finding a third party willing to place a prior publication date on the document. Such uncorroborated third party assertions unsupported by any affidavit or declaration are not sufficient evidence. If an Applicant wishes to submit an assertion by a third party as evidence, e.g., in support of a Rule 131 or 132 submission, then the third party assertion is required to be supported by an affidavit or declaration. The Examiner should be held to no less of a standard. Here, the Examiner has not obtained any affidavit or declaration from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine supporting the publication date of the FFHD reference. Nor has any other corroborating evidence been supplied by the Examiner despite repeated challenges by the Applicant.The Board in Hicks was not persuaded by this argument either. After noting that a PTO proceeding is not bound by the stricter rules of evidence of a judicial proceeding, the Board concluded that "without more, we decline to agree with Appellants that reliance by the Examiner on FFHD was improper."
As noted above, the Board generally allows the use of the Wayback Machine to show prior art status,
as long as the Examiner identifies the page and retrieval date in the proper manner. In a future post, I'll discuss a few cases where proper identification was at issue.