MPEP 720

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720 Public Use Proceedings[edit | edit source]

37 CFR 1.292. Public use proceedings.

(a) When a petition for the institution of public use proceedings, supported by affidavits or declarations is found, on reference to the examiner, to make a prima facie showing that the invention claimed in an application believed to be on file had been in public use or on sale more than one year before the filing of the application, a hearing may be had before the Director to determine whether a public use proceeding should be instituted. If instituted, the Director may designate an appropriate official to conduct the public use proceeding, including the setting of times for taking testimony, which shall be taken as provided by part 41, subpart D, of this title. The petitioner will be heard in the proceedings but after decision therein will not be heard further in the prosecution of the application for patent.

(b) The petition and accompanying papers, or a notice that such a petition has been filed, shall be entered in the application file if:

(1) The petition is accompanied by the fee set forth in § 1.17(j);

(2) The petition is served on the applicant in accordance with § 1.248, or filed with the Office in duplicate in the event service is not possible; and

(3) The petition is submitted prior to the date the application was published or the mailing of a notice of allowance under § 1.311, whichever occurs first.

(c) A petition for institution of public use proceedings shall not be filed by a party to an interference as to an application involved in the interference. Public use and on sale issues in an interference shall be raised by a motion under § 41.121(a)(1) of this title.


Public use proceedings are provided for in 37 CFR 1.292. The institution of public use proceedings is discretionary with the Director of the USPTO.

Any member of the public other than the applicant, including private persons, corporate entities, and government agencies, may file a petition under 37 CFR 1.292. A petition may be filed by an attorney or other representative on behalf of an unnamed principal since 37 CFR 1.292 does not require that the principal be identified. A petition and fee (37 CFR 1.17(j)) are required to initiate consideration of whether to institute a public use proceeding. The petitioner ordinarily has information concerning a pending application which claims, in whole or in part, subject matter that the petitioner alleges was in "public use" or "on sale" in this country more than one year prior to the effective United States filing date of the pending application (see 35 U.S.C. 119 and 120). He or she thus asserts that a statutory bar (35 U.S.C. 102(b) alone or in combination with 35 U.S.C. 103) exists which prohibits the patenting of the subject matter of the application.

When public use petitions and accompanying papers are submitted they, or a notice in lieu thereof, will be entered in the application file if the petition is:

(A) accompanied by the fee set forth in 37 CFR 1.17(j);

(B) served on the applicant in accordance with 37 CFR 1.248, or filed with the Office in duplicate in the event service is not possible; and

(C) submitted prior to the date the application was published or the mailing of a notice of allowance under 37 CFR 1.311, whichever occurs first.

Duplicate copies should be submitted only when, after diligent effort, it has not been possible for petitioner to serve a copy of the petition on the applicant, or his or her attorney or agent in accordance with 37 CFR 1.248 in which case the Office of Patent Legal Administration of the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy will attempt to get the duplicate copy to the applicant, or his or her attorney or agent.

Notice of a petition for a public use proceeding will be entered in the file in lieu of the petition itself when the petition and the accompanying papers are too bulky to accompany the file. Any public use papers not physically entered in the file will be publicly available whenever the application file wrapper is available. For Image File Wrapper (IFW) processing, see IFW Manual section 3.3.

There are two types of public use proceedings: ex parte and inter partes. It is important to understand the difference. In the ex parte situation, the petitioner is not entitled, as a matter of right, to inspect the pending application. Thus, he or she stands in no better position than any other member of the public regarding access to the pending application. In the inter partes situation, the pending application is a reissue application. In the inter partes situation, the petitioner is privy to the contents of the pending application (37 CFR 41.109). Thus, as pointed out below, the petitioner in the inter partes situation participates in the public use proceedings to a greater degree than in the ex parte situation. A petitioner who was once involved in a terminated interference with a pending application is no longer privy to the application contents and will accordingly be treated as an ex parte petitioner. It should be noted that petitions filed on and after February 11, 1985 will not be allowed in accordance with 37 CFR 1.292(c) unless the petition arises out of an interference declared prior to February 11, 1985 or the interference was declared after February 11, 1985 but arose from an interference declared prior to that date.

Since February 11, 1985, a petition for institution of public use proceedings cannot be filed by a party to an interference as to an application involved in the interference. Public use issues can only be raised by a motion under 37 CFR 41.121. However, if the issue of public use arises out of an interference declared prior to February 11, 1985, the petition may be filed by a party to the interference as to an application involved in the interference.

There may be cases where a public use petition has been filed in an application which has been restricted or is subject to a proper restriction requirement. If the petition alleges that subject matter covering both elected claims and nonelected claims is a statutory bar, only that part of the petition drawn to subject matter of the elected claims will be considered. However, if a public use proceeding is ultimately instituted, it will not necessarily be limited to the subject matter of the elected claims but may include the nonelected subject matter. Any evidence adduced on the nonelected subject matter may be used in any subsequently- filed application claiming subject matter without the requirement of a new fee (37 CFR 1.17(j)). The petitioner will not be heard regarding the appropriateness of any restriction requirement.

A petition under 37 CFR 1.292 must be submitted in writing, must specifically identify the application to which the petition is directed by application number or serial number and filing date, and should include a listing of all affidavits or declarations and exhibits relied on. The petition must contain a sufficient description of the subject matter that the petitioner alleges was in “public use” or “on sale,” including any necessary photographs, drawings, diagrams, exhibits, or flowcharts, to enable the examiner to compare the claimed subject matter to the subject matter alleged to have been in “public use” or “on sale.” In addition, the petition and any accompanying papers must either (A) reflect that a copy of the same has been served upon the applicant or upon the applicant’s attorney or agent of record; or (B) be filed with the Office in duplicate in the event service is not possible.

It is important that any petition in a pending application specifically identify the application to which the petition is directed with the identification being as complete as possible. The following information, if known, should be placed on the petition:

(A) Name of Applicant(s).

(B) Application number.

(C) Confirmation number.

(D) Filing date of application.

(E) Title of invention.

(F) Technology Center art unit number.

(G) Name of examiner to whom the application is assigned.

(H) Current status and location of application.

(I) The word “ATTENTION:” followed by the area of the Office to which the petition is directed as set forth below.

In addition, to the above information, the petition itself should be clearly identified as a “PETITION UNDER 37 CFR 1.292.” If the petition is accompanied by exhibits or other attachments, these should also contain identifying information thereon in order to prevent them from becoming inadvertently separated and lost.

Any petition under 37 CFR 1.292 can be submitted by mail to the Commissioner for Patents, P.O. Box 1450, Alexandria, VA 22313-1450, and should be directed to the attention of the director of the particular Technology Center (TC) in which the application is pending. If the petitioner is unable to specifically identify the application to which the petition is directed, but, nevertheless, believes such an application to be pending, the petition should be directed to the attention of the Office of Patent Legal Administration of the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy or to “Mail Stop Petition,” along with as much identifying data for the application as possible.

Every effort should be made by a petitioner to effect service of the petition upon the attorney or agent of record or upon the applicant if no attorney or agent is of record. Of course, the copy served upon applicant or upon applicant’s attorney or agent should be a complete copy including a copy of each photograph, drawing, diagram, exhibit, flowchart, or other document relied on. The petition filed in the Office should reflect, by an appropriate “Certificate of Service,” that service has been made as provided in 37 CFR 1.248. Only in those instances where service is not possible should the petition be filed in duplicate in order that the Office can attempt service. In addition, all other papers filed by the petitioner relating to the petition or subsequent public use proceeding must be served in accordance with 37 CFR 1.248.

720.01 Preliminary Handling[edit | edit source]

A petition filed under 37 CFR 1.292 should be forwarded to the Office of Patent Legal Administration (OPLA) of the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy. A member of the OPLA staff will ascertain whether the formal requirements of 37 CFR 1.292 have been fulfilled. In particular, the petition will be reviewed to see whether the petition has been filed prior to the earliest of the date the application was published or the mailing of a notice of allowance under 37 CFR 1.311, if the alleged use or sale occurred in this country more than 1 year before the effective filing date of the application, whether the petition contains affidavits or declarations and exhibits to establish the facts alleged, whether the papers have been filed in duplicate, or one copy has been served on applicant and whether the required fee has been tendered. The application file is ordered and its status ascertained so that appropriate action may be taken.

A petition under 37 CFR 1.292 must be “submitted prior to the date the application was published or the mailing of a notice of allowance under 37 CFR 1.311, whichever occurs first.” As a practical matter, any petition should be submitted as soon as possible after the petitioner becomes aware of the existence of the application to which the petition is to be directed. By submitting a petition early in the examination process, i.e., before the Office acts on the application if possible, the petitioner ensures that the petition will receive maximum consideration and will be of the most benefit to the Office in its examination of the application.

Since a petition under 37 CFR 1.292 cannot be considered subsequent to issuance of the application as a patent or abandonment of the application, the petition will not be considered if the application is not pending when the petition and application are provided to the member of the OPLA staff (i.e., that the application was pending at the time the petition was filed would be immaterial to its ultimate consideration). A petition submitted prior to the earliest of the date the application was published or the mailing of a notice of allowance under 37 CFR 1.311, but not provided to the member of the OPLA staff with the application file prior to issuance or abandonment of the application, will be entered in the application file, but will be dismissed as moot. A petition filed after final rejection will be considered if the application has not been published and is still pending when the petition and application are provided to the member of the OPLA staff. However, prosecution will not ordinarily be reopened after final rejection if the subject matter alleged in the petition to have been in “public use” or “on sale” is merely cumulative of the prior art cited in the final rejection. If a petition is filed after the date the application was published or the mailing of a notice of allowance under 37 CFR 1.311, it will be dismissed as untimely.

A petition with regard to a reissue application should be filed within the 2-month period following announcement of the filing of the reissue application in the Official Gazette. If, for some reason, the petition cannot be filed within the 2-month period provided by 37 CFR 1.176, the petition can be submitted at a later time, but petitioner must be aware that reissue applications are “special” and a later filed petition may be received after action by the examiner. Any request by a petitioner in a reissue application for an extension of the 2-month period following the announcement in the Official Gazette will be considered only if filed in the form of a petition under 37 CFR 1.182 and accompanied by the petition fee set forth in 37 CFR 1.17(f). The petition must explain why the additional time is necessary and the nature of the allegations to be made in the petition. A copy of such petition must be served upon applicant in accordance with 37 CFR 1.248. The petition should be directed to the appropriate Technology Center (TC). Any such petition will be critically reviewed as to demonstrated need before being granted since the delay of examination of a reissue application of another party is being requested. Accordingly, the requests should be made only where necessary, for the minimum period required, and with a justification establishing the necessity for the extension.

If the petition is a “REISSUE LITIGATION” petition, it is particularly important that it be filed early if petitioner wishes it considered prior to the first Office action on the application. Petitioners should be aware that the Office will entertain petitions under 37 CFR 1.183, when accompanied by the petition fee set forth in 37 CFR 1.17(f), to waive the 2-month delay period of 37 CFR 1.176 in appropriate circumstances. Accordingly, petitioners in reissue applications cannot automatically assume that the full 2-month delay period of 37 CFR 1.176 will always be available.

In those ex parte situations where a petitioner cannot identify the pending application by application number, the petition papers will be forwarded to the appropriate TC Director for an identification search. Once the application file(s) is located, it should be forwarded to the OPLA.

If the petition filed in the Office does not indicate service on applicant or applicant’s attorney or agent, and is not filed in duplicate, then the Office will undertake to determine whether or not service has been made by contacting applicant or applicant’s attorney or agent by telephone or in writing to ascertain if service has been made. If service has not been made and no duplicate has been filed, then the Office may request petitioner to file such a duplicate before the petition is referred to the examiner. Alternatively, if the petition involves only a few pages, the Office may, in its sole discretion, elect to reproduce the petition rather than delay referring it to the examiner. If duplicate petition papers are mailed to applicant or applicant’s attorney or agent by the Office, the application file should reflect that fact, either by a letter transmitting the petition or, if no transmittal letter is used, simply by an appropriate notation in the “Contents” section of the application file wrapper. For Image File Wrapper (IFW) processing, see IFW Manual section 3.4.

If the petition is not submitted prior to the earliest of the date the application was published or the mailing of a notice of allowance under 37 CFR 1.311, it should not be entered in the application file. The applicant should be notified that the petition is untimely and that it is not being entered in the application file. The handling of the petition will vary depending on the particular following situation.

(A) Service Of Copy Included

Where the petition includes an indication of service of copy on the applicant, the original petition should be discarded.

(B) Service Of Copy Not Included

Where the petition does not include an indication of service and a duplicate copy of the petition is or is not present, the duplicate copy (if present) should be discarded and the original petition should be sent to the applicant along with the notification of nonentry.

720.02 Examiner Determination of Prima Facie Showing[edit | edit source]

Once the Office of Patent Legal Administration (OPLA) staff member has determined that the petition meets the formal requirements of 37 CFR 1.292, and the application’s status warrants consideration of the petition, he or she will prepare a letter forwarding the petition and the application file to the examiner for determination of whether a prima facie case of public use or sale in this country of the claimed subject matter is established by the petition. Any other papers that have been filed by the parties involved, such as a reply by the applicant or additional submissions by the petitioner, will also be forwarded to the examiner. Whether additional papers are accepted is within the discretion of the OPLA staff member. However, protracted paper filing is discouraged since the parties should endeavor to present their best case as to the prima facie showing at the earliest possible time. No oral hearings or interviews will be granted at this stage, and the examiner is cautioned not to answer any inquiries by the petitioner or applicant.

A prima facie case is established by the petition if the examiner finds that the facts asserted in the affidavit( s) or declaration(s), as supported by the exhibits, if later proved true by testimony taken in the public use proceeding, would result in a statutory bar to the claims under 35 U.S.C. 102(b) alone or in combination with 35 U.S.C. 103. See MPEP § 2133.03 et seq.

To make this determination, the examiner must identify exactly what was in public use or on sale, whether it was in use or on sale in this country more than 1 year before the effective filing date, and whether the pending claims “read” on or are obvious over what has been shown to be in public use or on sale. On this last point, the examiner should compare all pending claims with the matter alleged to have been in use or on sale, not just the claims identified by petitioner.

In situations where the petition alleges only that the claims are obvious over subject matter asserted to be in public use or on sale, the petition should include prior art or other information on which it relies and explain how the prior art or other information in combination with the subject matter asserted to be in public use or on sale renders the claims obvious. The examiner is not expected to make a search of the prior art in evaluating the petition. If, however, the examiner determines that a prima facie case of anticipation under 35 U.S.C. 102(b) has not been established but, at the time of evaluating the petition, the examiner is aware of prior art or other information which, in his or her opinion, renders the claims obvious over the subject matter asserted to be in public use or on sale the examiner may determine that a prima facie case is made out, even if the petition alleged only that the claims were anticipated under 35 U.S.C. 102(b).

After having made his/her determination, the examiner will forward a memorandum to the OPLA staff member, stating his or her findings and his or her decision as to whether a prima facie case has been established. The findings should include a summary of the alleged facts, a comparison of at least one claim with the device alleged to be in public use or on sale, and any other pertinent facts which will aid the OPLA staff member in conducting the preliminary hearing. The report should be prepared in triplicate and addressed to the OPLA staff member.

720.03 Preliminary Hearing[edit | edit source]

Where the examiner concludes that a prima facie showing has not been established, both the petitioner and the applicant are so notified by the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy and the application proceedings are resumed without giving the parties an opportunity to be heard on the correctness of the examiner’s decision. Where the examiner concludes that a prima facie case has been established, the Director of the USPTO may hold a preliminary hearing. In such case, the parties will be notified by letter of the examiner’s conclusion and of the time and date of the hearing. In ex parte cases, whether or not the examiner has concluded that a prima facie showing has been established, no copy of the examiner’s memorandum to the Office of Patent Legal Administration (OPLA) staff member will be forwarded to the petitioner. However, in such cases where the petition covers restrictable subject matter and it is evident that petitioner is not aware of a restriction requirement which has been or may be made, petitioner will be informed that the examiner’s conclusion is limited to elected subject matter. While not so specifically captioned, the notification of this hearing amounts to an order to show cause why a public use proceeding should not be held. No new evidence is to be introduced or discussed at this hearing. The format of the hearing is established by the member of the OPLA staff. The examiner may attend as an observer only.

Where the hearing is held in the ex parte situation, great care will be taken to avoid discussion of any matters of the application file which are not already of knowledge to petitioner. Of course, applicant may of his or her own action or consent notify the petitioner of the nature of his or her claims or other related matters.

After the hearing is concluded, the OPLA staff member will decide whether public use proceedings are to be initiated, and he/she will send appropriate notice to the parties.

720.04 Public Use Proceeding Testimony[edit | edit source]

When the Office of Patent Legal Administration (OPLA) staff member decides to institute public use proceedings, the application is referred to the examiner who will conduct all further proceedings. The fact that the affidavits or declarations and exhibits presented with the petition for institution of the public use proceedings have been held to make out a prima facie case does not mean that the statutory bar has been conclusively established. The statutory bar can only be established by testimony taken in accordance with normal rules of evidence, including the right of cross-examination. The affidavits or declarations are not to be considered part of the testimony and in no case can they be used as evidence on behalf of the party submitting them unless the affidavits or declarations are submitted as a part of the petitioner’s testimony.

In ex parte cases and in inter partes cases where the pending application is a reissue, an oral hearing is ordinarily not held.

In all public use proceedings, whether the ultimate issue is anticipation under 35 U.S.C. 102(b) or obviousness over 35 U.S.C. 103, testimony will be limited to the issues of public use or on sale. No testimony will be received on whether the claimed subject matter would have been obvious over subject matter asserted to be in public use or on sale.

720.05 Final Decision[edit | edit source]

The final decision of the examiner should be “analogous to that rendered by the [Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences] in an interference proceeding, analyzing the testimony” and stating conclusions. In re Townsend, 1913 C.D. 55, 188 O.G. 513 (Comm’r Pat. 1913). In reaching his or her decision, the examiner is not bound by the prior finding that a prima facie case has been established.

If the examiner concludes that a public use or sale bar exists, he or she will enter a rejection to that effect in the application file, predicating that rejection on the evidence considered and the findings and decision reached in the public use proceeding. Even if a rejection is not made, the examiner’s written action should reflect that the evidence of 35 U.S.C. 102(b) activity has in fact been considered. Likewise, if the examiner concludes that a prima facie case (A) has not been established, or (B) has been established and rebutted (MPEP § 2133.03(e) et seq.) then the examiner’s written action should so indicate. Strict adherence to this format should cause the rationale employed by the examiner in the written action to be self-evident. In this regard, the use of reasons for allowance pursuant to 37 CFR 1.104(e) may also be appropriate. See MPEP § 1302.14. In ex parte cases where the petitioner does not have access to the file, no copy of the examiner’s action is mailed to the petitioner by the Office.

There is no review from the final decision of the examiner in the public use proceedings. A petition under 37 CFR 1.181, requesting that the Director of the USPTO exercise his or her supervisory authority and vacate the examiner’s decision, will not be entertained except where there is a showing of clear error. See Ex parte Hartley, 1908 C.D. 224, 136 O.G. 1767 (Comm’r Pat. 1908). Once the application returns to its ex parte status, appellate review under 35 U.S.C. 134 and 141-145 may be had of any adverse decision rejecting claim(s), as a result of the examiner’s decisions as to public use or sale.

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