MPEP 2133.03(e)
Permitted Activity; Experimental Use

Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 07.2022, Last Revised in February 2023

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2133.03(e)    Permitted Activity; Experimental Use [R-07.2022]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section may be applicable 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.]

The question posed by the experimental use doctrine is "whether the primary purpose of the inventor at the time of the sale, as determined from an objective evaluation of the facts surrounding the transaction, was to conduct experimentation." Allen Eng’g Corp. v. Bartell Indus., Inc., 299 F.3d 1336, 1354, 63 USPQ2d 1769, 1780 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (quoting EZ Dock v. Schafer Sys., Inc., 276 F.3d 1347, 1356-57, 61 USPQ2d 1289, 1295-96 (Fed. Cir. 2002)) (Linn, J., concurring). Experimentation must be the primary purpose and any commercial exploitation must be incidental in order for the sale to be a permitted activity that does not create a bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b).

If the use or sale was experimental, there is no bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b). "A use or sale is experimental for purposes of [pre-AIA] section 102(b) if it represents a bona fide effort to perfect the invention or to ascertain whether it will answer its intended purpose.… If any commercial exploitation does occur, it must be merely incidental to the primary purpose of the experimentation to perfect the invention." LaBounty Mfg. v. United States Int’l Trade Comm’n, 958 F.2d 1066, 1071, 22 USPQ2d 1025, 1028 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (quoting Pennwalt Corp. v. Akzona Inc., 740 F.2d 1573, 1581, 222 USPQ 833, 838 (Fed. Cir. 1984)). "The experimental use exception…does not include market testing where the inventor is attempting to gauge consumer demand for his claimed invention. The purpose of such activities is commercial exploitation and not experimentation." In re Smith, 714 F.2d 1127, 1134, 218 USPQ 976, 983 (Fed. Cir. 1983).