MPEP 2107
Guidelines for Examination of Applications for Compliance with the Utility Requirement

This is the Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 07.2015, Last Revised in November 2015

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2107    Guidelines for Examination of Applications for Compliance with the Utility Requirement [R-11.2013]

I. INTRODUCTION

The following Guidelines establish the policies and procedures to be followed by Office personnel in the evaluation of any patent application for compliance with the utility requirements of 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112(a), or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. These Guidelines have been promulgated to assist Office personnel in their review of applications for compliance with the utility requirement. The Guidelines do not alter the substantive requirements of 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112, nor are they designed to obviate the examiner’s review of applications for compliance with all other statutory requirements for patentability. The Guidelines do not constitute substantive rulemaking and hence do not have the force and effect of law. Rejections will be based upon the substantive law, and it is these rejections which are appealable. Consequently, any perceived failure by Office personnel to follow these Guidelines is neither appealable nor petitionable.

II. EXAMINATION GUIDELINES FOR THE UTILITY REQUIREMENT

Office personnel are to adhere to the following procedures when reviewing patent applications for compliance with the “useful invention” (“utility”) requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph.

  • (A) Read the claims and the supporting written description.
    • (1) Determine what the applicant has claimed, noting any specific embodiments of the invention.
    • (2) Ensure that the claims define statutory subject matter (i.e., a process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or improvement thereof).
    • (3) If at any time during the examination, it becomes readily apparent that the claimed invention has a well-established utility, do not impose a rejection based on lack of utility. An invention has a well-established utility if (i) a person of ordinary skill in the art would immediately appreciate why the invention is useful based on the characteristics of the invention (e.g., properties or applications of a product or process), and (ii) the utility is specific, substantial, and credible.
  • (B) Review the claims and the supporting written description to determine if the applicant has asserted for the claimed invention any specific and substantial utility that is credible:
    • (1) If the applicant has asserted that the claimed invention is useful for any particular practical purpose (i.e., it has a “specific and substantial utility”) and the assertion would be considered credible by a person of ordinary skill in the art, do not impose a rejection based on lack of utility.
      • (i) A claimed invention must have a specific and substantial utility. This requirement excludes “throw-away,” “insubstantial,” or “nonspecific” utilities, such as the use of a complex invention as landfill, as a way of satisfying the utility requirement of 35 U.S.C. 101.
      • (ii) Credibility is assessed from the perspective of one of ordinary skill in the art in view of the disclosure and any other evidence of record (e.g., test data, affidavits or declarations from experts in the art, patents or printed publications) that is probative of the applicant’s assertions. An applicant need only provide one credible assertion of specific and substantial utility for each claimed invention to satisfy the utility requirement.
    • (2) If no assertion of specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention made by the applicant is credible, and the claimed invention does not have a readily apparent well-established utility, reject the claim(s) under 35 U.S.C. 101 on the grounds that the invention as claimed lacks utility. Also reject the claims under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, on the basis that the disclosure fails to teach how to use the invention as claimed. The 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, rejection imposed in conjunction with a 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection should incorporate by reference the grounds of the corresponding 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection.
    • (3) If the applicant has not asserted any specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention and it does not have a readily apparent well-established utility, impose a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 101, emphasizing that the applicant has not disclosed a specific and substantial utility for the invention. Also impose a separate rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, on the basis that the applicant has not disclosed how to use the invention due to the lack of a specific and substantial utility. The 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 112 rejections shift the burden of coming forward with evidence to the applicant to:
      • (i) Explicitly identify a specific and substantial utility for the claimed invention; and
      • (ii) Provide evidence that one of ordinary skill in the art would have recognized that the identified specific and substantial utility was well-established at the time of filing. The examiner should review any subsequently submitted evidence of utility using the criteria outlined above. The examiner should also ensure that there is an adequate nexus between the evidence and the properties of the now claimed subject matter as disclosed in the application as filed. That is, the applicant has the burden to establish a probative relation between the submitted evidence and the originally disclosed properties of the claimed invention.
    • (C) Any rejection based on lack of utility should include a detailed explanation why the claimed invention has no specific and substantial credible utility. Whenever possible, the examiner should provide documentary evidence regardless of publication date (e.g., scientific or technical journals, excerpts from treatises or books, or U.S. or foreign patents) to support the factual basis for the prima facie showing of no specific and substantial credible utility. If documentary evidence is not available, the examiner should specifically explain the scientific basis for his or her factual conclusions.
      • (1) Where the asserted utility is not specific or substantial, a prima facie showing must establish that it is more likely than not that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not consider that any utility asserted by the applicant would be specific and substantial. The prima facie showing must contain the following elements:
        • (i) An explanation that clearly sets forth the reasoning used in concluding that the asserted utility for the claimed invention is not both specific and substantial nor well-established;
        • (ii) Support for factual findings relied upon in reaching this conclusion; and
        • (iii) An evaluation of all relevant evidence of record, including utilities taught in the closest prior art.
      • (2) Where the asserted specific and substantial utility is not credible, a prima facie showing of no specific and substantial credible utility must establish that it is more likely than not that a person skilled in the art would not consider credible any specific and substantial utility asserted by the applicant for the claimed invention. The prima facie showing must contain the following elements:
        • (i) An explanation that clearly sets forth the reasoning used in concluding that the asserted specific and substantial utility is not credible;
        • (ii) Support for factual findings relied upon in reaching this conclusion; and
        • (iii) An evaluation of all relevant evidence of record, including utilities taught in the closest prior art.
      • (3) Where no specific and substantial utility is disclosed or is well-established, a prima facie showing of no specific and substantial utility need only establish that applicant has not asserted a utility and that, on the record before the examiner, there is no known well-established utility.
    • (D) A rejection based on lack of utility should not be maintained if an asserted utility for the claimed invention would be considered specific, substantial, and credible by a person of ordinary skill in the art in view of all evidence of record.

Office personnel are reminded that they must treat as true a statement of fact made by an applicant in relation to an asserted utility, unless countervailing evidence can be provided that shows that one of ordinary skill in the art would have a legitimate basis to doubt the credibility of such a statement. Similarly, Office personnel must accept an opinion from a qualified expert that is based upon relevant facts whose accuracy is not being questioned; it is improper to disregard the opinion solely because of a disagreement over the significance or meaning of the facts offered.

Once a prima facie showing of no specific and substantial credible utility has been properly established, the applicant bears the burden of rebutting it. The applicant can do this by amending the claims, by providing reasoning or arguments, or by providing evidence in the form of a declaration under 37 CFR 1.132 or a patent or a printed publication that rebuts the basis or logic of the prima facie showing. If the applicant responds to the prima facie rejection, the Office personnel should review the original disclosure, any evidence relied upon in establishing the prima facie showing, any claim amendments, and any new reasoning or evidence provided by the applicant in support of an asserted specific and substantial credible utility. It is essential for Office personnel to recognize, fully consider and respond to each substantive element of any response to a rejection based on lack of utility. Only where the totality of the record continues to show that the asserted utility is not specific, substantial, and credible should a rejection based on lack of utility be maintained.

If the applicant satisfactorily rebuts a prima facie rejection based on lack of utility under 35 U.S.C. 101, withdraw the 35 U.S.C. 101 rejection and the corresponding rejection imposed under 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph.