MPEP 2152.02(c)
In Public Use

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

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2152.02(c)    In Public Use [R-07.2022]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is only 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 § 2131-MPEP § 2138 for examination of applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102.]

Public use rejections under 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) may be based on uses that are public anywhere in the world. While there is no requirement that the use or sale activity be by another, it should be noted that certain uses or sales are subject to the exceptions in 35 U.S.C. 102(b)(1), e.g., uses or sales by the inventor or a joint inventor (or have originated with the inventor) that precede the effective filing date by less than one year. See MPEP § 2154.02.

Under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), an invention that was "in public use" precluded the grant of a patent only if such public use occurred "in this country." See MPEP § 2133.03(d).

Under AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1), there is no geographic limitation on where prior public use or public availability occurs. Furthermore, a public use would need to occur before the effective filing date of the claimed invention to constitute prior art under AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1).

The pre-AIA case law also indicates that a public use will bar patentability if the public use occurs before the critical date and the invention is ready for patenting. Under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), the critical date is the date that is one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States. See Invitrogen Corp. v. Biocrest Manufacturing. L.P., 424 F.3d 1374, 1379-80, 76 USPQ2d 1741, 1744 (Fed. Cir. 2005) and MPEP § 2133. Under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b), the uses of an invention before the patent's critical date that constitute a "public use" fall into two categories: the use either "(1) was accessible to the public; or (2) was commercially exploited." See American Seating Co. v. USSC Group, Inc., 514 F.3d 1262, 1267, 85 USPQ2d 1683, 1685 (Fed. Cir. 2008) and MPEP § 2133.03(a). Whether a use is a pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) public use also depends on who is making the use of the invention. "[W]hen an asserted prior use is not that of the applicant, [pre-AIA 35 U.S.C.] 102(b) is not a bar when that prior use or knowledge is not available to the public." See Woodland Trust v. Flowertree Nursery, Inc., 148 F.3d 1368, 1371, 47 USPQ2d 1363, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 1998). In other words, a use by a third party who did not obtain the invention from the inventor named in the application or patent is an invalidating use under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) only if it falls into the first category: That the use was accessible to the public. See MPEP § 2133.03(a), subsection II.C. On the other hand, "an inventor's own prior commercial use, albeit kept secret, may constitute a public use or sale under [pre-AIA 35 U.S.C.] 102(b), barring him from obtaining a patent." See Woodland Trust, 148 F.3d at 1370, 47 USPQ2d at 1366 and MPEP § 2133.03(a), subsection II.A. Also, an inventor creates a public use bar under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) when the inventor shows the invention to, or allows it to be used by, another person who is "under no limitation, restriction, or obligation of confidentiality" to the inventor. See American Seating, 514 F.3d at 1267, 85 USPQ2d at 1685 and MPEP § 2133.03(a), subsection II.B.

Further, under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a), "in order to invalidate a patent based on prior knowledge or use" by another in this country prior to the patent's priority date, "that knowledge or use must have been available to the public." See Woodland Trust, 148 F.3d at 1370, 47 USPQ2d at 1366 and MPEP § 2132, subsection I. Patent-defeating "use," under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a) includes only that "use which is accessible to the public." See id. (quoting Carella v. Starlight Archery, 804 F.2d 135, 139, 231 USPQ 644, 646 (Fed. Cir. 1986)).

As discussed previously, public use under AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) is limited to those uses that are available to the public. The public use provision of AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a)(1) thus has the same substantive scope, with respect to uses by either the inventor or a third party, as public uses under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(b) by unrelated third parties or others under pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102(a).

As also discussed previously, once an examiner becomes aware that a claimed invention has been the subject of a potentially public use, the examiner should require the applicant to provide information showing that the use did not make the claimed process accessible to the public.