Optima Test Prep Sued

March 11, 2009

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The sponsoring organizations of the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) have filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, alleging copyright infringement by Optima University, a provider of USMLE review courses. On February 24, a U.S. Marshal executed a court order to obtain the Optima prep materials from Optima's offices in McKenzie, Tennessee.

In their filing, the National Board of Medical Examiners and the Federation of State Medical Boards allege that Optima is unlawfully using questions that they own and have copyrighted.

"Americans rely on the USMLE as a keystone in the medical licensing process, our primary means of assessing the competence of physicians who wish to practice medicine in the United States," said Daniel Kimball, Jr., MD, chair of the USMLE Composite Committee, which sets policy for the exam's administration. "The integrity of the exam is critical for public safety."

The USMLE is copyrighted, and USMLE examinees agree not to disclose secure test questions at any time. Unauthorized access to secure test materials may raise questions about the validity of a test-taker's score.

Providers of legitimate review courses create their own test prep materials. Under U.S. copyright laws, test prep companies have no right to use USMLE test items.

The USMLE maintains rigorous security at all test sites, including monitoring by trained proctors and videotaping, and analyzes score responses and patterns to identify potential breaches. When test-takers sign up for the exam, they agree to "maintain the confidentiality of the materials" and not to provide information about content "that may give an unfair advantage to individuals who may be taking the examination."

Dr. Kimball points out test-takers who do not fulfill their pledges of confidentiality fail to meet the medical profession's standards in vitally important ways. "We depend on our physicians for the highest standards of ethics as well as medical competence," he said.

The USMLE Composite Committee includes representatives from the two sponsoring organizations, the American public, and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.