Public Use Bar

  • BASICS: For a pre-critical-date use to invalidate a claim, (1) the invention must be “ready for patenting” (see Pfaff (U.S. 11/10/1998)) and (2) the use must have been a public use. Invitrogen (Fed. Cir. 10/05/05); Art+Com (Fed. Cir. 10/20/17) (non-precedential) (aff’g public use jury verdict, sufficient evidence of reduction to practice of invention in public use); Dey (Fed. Cir. 05/20/13) (rev’g Summ. J. of public use bar, but not entering Summ. J. of no bar, even though clinical study subjects did not sign confidentiality agreements) (“we ask ‘whether the purported use: (1) was accessible to the public; or (2) was commercially exploited.’”) There are two public use categories: (1) a commercial use by the applicants (even if confidential); and (2) a non-confidential use by anyone. Dey (Fed. Cir. 05/20/13) (“secret or confidential third-party uses do not invalidate later-filed patents”); Delano (Fed. Cir. 01/09/15) (aff’g no public use of patented plants where patent owner’s employee gave plants to third parties telling them to keep them private and third parties knew employee was not authorized to provide the unreleased plants). Need not be used for its intended purpose. Rather, inquiry is “whether the inventor himself has made a use of his invention which is ‘public’ because it was given to a member of the public without restriction,” but “all aspects of the claimed invention must be disclosed.” Pronova (Fed. Cir. 09/12/13) (shipping sample of pharmaceutical to a doctor with description of product, and without restriction on use, was a public use). Some precedent exists for extending “public use” bar to “obvious variants” without full-scale obviousness analysis. Clock Spring (Fed. Cir. 03/25/09) (“We have held that the public use bar applies to obvious variants of the demonstrated public use.”)
    • FITF: Changes the defense for patents subject to it. See Helsinn (Fed. Cir. 05/01/17) (expressly declining to address whether overrules case law on “secret” public uses), cert. granted (U.S. 06/25/2018) (Question Presented: “Whether, under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, an inventor’s sale of an invention to a third party that is obligated to keep the invention confidential qualifies as prior art for purposes of determining the patentability of the invention.”).
  • Commercial Use Category Of “Public Use”: “[A] secret, purposely hidden use of a patented process more than one year before an applicant’s filing date precludes the issuance of the patent when it is the applicant who so used the claimed invention and did so to his commercial advantage.” Woodland (Fed. Cir. 07/10/98). In Invitrogen (Fed. Cir. 10/05/05), the Federal Circuit seemingly limited the “commercial” uses to situations where the invention is used in an actual product or in making an actual product for which compensation is received, not just using it to gain some other advantage, such as developing products for future use.
  • Requires Use, Not Merely Display, Of Embodiment: Providing keyboard to investors but not using it with a computer, is not a “public use.” Motionless Keyboard (Fed. Cir. 05/29/07).
  • The Second Public Use Prong Is Similar To Old Totality Of Circumstances Test: Unlike the on sale bar, the public use bar still uses a test similar to the old “totality of the circumstances”: “the test for the public use prong includes the consideration of evidence relevant to experimentation, as well as, inter alia, the nature of the activity that occurred in public; public access to the use; confidentiality obligations imposed on members of the public who observed the use; and commercial exploitation.” Invitrogen (Fed. Cir. 10/05/05); Dey (Fed. Cir. 05/20/13) (although “we do not ask for an ‘enablement-type inquiry’ under section 102(b), a court still must decide whether the ‘claimed features of the patents [were placed] in the public’s possession.’”). This test is in addition to the “ready for patenting” requirement. Id.