2133.03(e)(6) Permitted Experimental Activity and Testing [R-11.2013]
[Editor Note: This MPEP section has limited applicability to applications subject to examination under the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA as set forth in 35 U.S.C. 100 (note). See MPEP § 2159 et seq. to determine whether an application is subject to examination under the FITF provisions, and MPEP § 2150 et seq. for examination of applications subject to those provisions. See MPEP § 2152.02(c) through (e) for a detailed discussion of the public use and on sale provisions of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]
I. DEVELOPMENTAL TESTING IS PERMITTED
Testing of an invention in the normal context of its technological development is generally within the realm of permitted experimental activity. Likewise, experimentation to determine utility, as that term is applied in 35 U.S.C. 101, may also constitute permissible activity. See General Motors Corp. v. Bendix Aviation Corp., 123 F. Supp. 506, 521, 102 USPQ 58, 69 (N.D.Ind. 1954). For example, where an invention relates to a chemical composition with no known utility, i.e., a patent application for the composition could not be filed (35 U.S.C. 101; 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph), continued testing to find utility would likely be permissible under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), absent a sale of the composition or other evidence of commercial exploitation.
II. MARKET TESTING IS NOT PERMITTED
Experimentation to determine product acceptance, i.e., market testing, is typical of a trader’s and not an inventor’s experiment and is thus not within the area of permitted experimental activity. Smith & Davis Mfg. Co. v. Mellon, 58 F. 705, 707 (8th Cir. 1893) Likewise, testing of an invention for the benefit of appeasing a customer, or to conduct "minor ‘tune up’ procedures not requiring an inventor’s skills, but rather the skills of a competent technician," are also not within the exception. In re Theis, 610 F.2d 786, 793, 204 USPQ 188, 193-94 (CCPA 1979).
III. EXPERIMENTAL ACTIVITY IN THE CONTEXT OF DESIGN APPLICATIONS
The public use of an ornamental design which is directed toward generating consumer interest in the aesthetics of the design is not an experimental use. In re Mann, 861 F.2d 1581, 8 USPQ2d 2030 (Fed. Cir. 1988) (display of a wrought iron table at a trade show held to be public use). However, "experimentation directed to functional features of a product also containing an ornamental design may negate what otherwise would be considered a public use within the meaning of section 102(b)." Tone Brothers, Inc. v. Sysco Corp., 28 F.3d 1192, 1196, 31 USPQ2d 1321, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (A study wherein students evaluated the effect of the functional features of a spice container design may be considered an experimental use.).