China: Experimental Use Exemption Of Patent Infringement - A Brief Comparison Of China And The United States

Generally, the purpose of a patent is to award the patentee a limited market monopoly for disclosing his invention to the public. Experimental use of a patented invention, at least under certain circumstances, should not constitute patent infringement if such a use does not encroach upon the protected market. In many countries, including China and United States, experimental use of a patented invention is exempted, though varying in degree, from patent infringement. Here, we provide a brief comparison of the scope of experimental use exemption in the United States and China.


Historical Development

Historically, United States provides a narrow exemption from patent infringement liability for experimental use. The rationale behind the exemption was that "a man who constructed such a machine merely for philosophical experiments or for the purpose of ascertaining the sufficiency of the machine to produce its described effects" should not be punished.1 This historical trend took a turn in 1984, starting from the case of Roche Products Inc. v. Bolar Pharmaceutical Co., Inc.2

In that case, Bolar conducted bioequivalence studies, seeking FDA approval to market generic flurazepam, before Roche's flurazepam patent expired.3 Roche sued Bolar for patent infringement.4 The trial court (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York) ruled in favor of Bolar, holding no liability under the common law experimental use exemption doctrine.5 On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the "experimental use" exception is narrow, and does not apply to tests having a commercial objective.6

Soon after the Bolar case, the U.S. Congress enacted the Hatch-Waxman Act as part of the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, which seeks to strike a balance between two competing interests, encouraging pioneer research and development on one hand, and enabling competitors to market low-cost generic copies of drugs on the other.7 In particular, the Hatch-Waxman Act overrules Federal Circuit's decision in Roche v. Bolar, providing generic drug makers a "safe harbor" from patent infringement for testing "reasonably related" to obtaining FDA approval of an Abbreviated New Drug Application ("ANDA"). 35 U.S.C. § 271(e)(1). Thus, under the Hatch-Waxman Act, bioequivalence studies conducted in connection with ANDA submissions no longer constitute acts of infringement. This is the so-called "Bolar Exemption." In exchange, the mere paper submission of an ANDA for a drug claimed by an unexpired patent is automatically an act of infringement, even though the generic drug maker does not yet have an approved version of the drug entering the market. 35 U.S.C. § 271(e)(2).

In areas other than pharmaceutical testing for regulatory purposes, it appears that the common law experimental use exemption remains narrow: exemption applies only when the use of a patented invention is for pure scientific curiosity.8 In Madey v. Duke University, Madey sued Duke University for patent infringement and Duke University raised the experimental use defense.9 The Federal Circuit rejected Duke University's arguments, holding that the "experimental use" defense is "very narrow" and is limited to actions performed "for amusement, to satisfy idle curiosity, or for strictly philosophical inquiry."10 The court found that researchconducted at universities not only furthers the university's "legitimate business objectives, including educating and enlightening students and faculty participating in these projects;" but "also serve, for example, to increase the status of the institution and lure lucrative grants, students and faculty."11 Such research at a university therefore is not exempted from patent infringement liability.

Experimental Use Exemption in Pharmaceutical Context (the Bolar Exemption)

Since most of the disputes in the United States relating to experimental use exemption occur under the Hatch-Waxman framework, we discuss below the scope of the statutory exemption as construed by the court. The U.S. Supreme Court has construed section 271(e)(1) broadly to encompass any use reasonably related to the development and submission of information under a federal law that regulates the manufacture, use, or sale of drugs or veterinary biological products.12 For example, the "safe harbor" applies not only to drugs, literally covered by the statutory test, but also to medical devices, not expressly spelled out in the statute.13 The Supreme Court further reinforced that "[the experimental use] exemption from infringement extends to all uses of patented inventions that are reasonably related to the development and submission of any information under the FDCA [Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act]," including preclinical testing and testing data not ultimately included in the drug application.14

Under the guidance of the U.S. Supreme Court, both the Federal Circuit and various federal district courts have taken quite liberal interpretations of section 271 (e)(1). For example, the Federal Circuit held that the statute does not look to the underlying purposes or intended consequences of a use, so long as the use is reasonably related to the FDA approval.15 One federal district court held that if it was reasonable for a party to believe that there was a decent prospect that the "use" in question would contribute to the generation of information that was likely to be relevant in the FDA approval processes, it should not matter whether other reasonable persons might have concluded that FDA approval could be secured even without the information in question.16 Even after receiving FDA approval, if post-approval studies are "materials the FDA demands in the regulatory process," those studies could still fall within the safe harbor provision.17

Nevertheless, courts have set forth limits on the application of section 271(e)(1). For instance, the Federal Circuit held that the safe harbor under section 271(e)(1) only applies to products that are subject to FDA approval.18 If a product does not need approval from a regulatory body, the 271(e)(1) exemption does not apply.19 Furthermore, studies recommended by a marketing department, not conducted for the purpose of regulatory approval, are not entitled to exemption.20 In addition, a federal district court held that section 271(e)(1) offers no protection to a drug maker's use of a patented invention to develop its own patentable product.21 The rationale was that the section 271(e)(1) safe harbor was designed to allow generic competitors to enter the market with a product that competes with a patented invention at precisely the time the patented invention loses its protected status.22 A drug maker, who develops its own new drug product using a patented invention, cannot take advantage of this safe harbor.23


Historical Development

Experimental use exemption was included in China's very first Patent Law in history, which was enacted in 1984. The Patent Law of 1984 in China states that use of a patent solely for the purposes of scientific research and experimentation shall not be deemed as an act of infringement. There have been relatively few judicial cases concerning experimental use exemption in China. Nevertheless, it was generally interpreted narrowly and was limited to scientific research and experimentations carried out specifically on the patented technology as such. The purpose of such exempted use is to give scientists and researchers freedom to characterize the technology, to look into the effect achieved by the technology, or to further improve the technology.24 Under this interpretation, it may be difficult to consider clinical trials conducted by a generic company for regulatory purposes as being exempted from patent infringement. For instance, in Glaxo v. Southwest Synthetic, the court's decision was in favor of the patentee, holding that regulatory clinical trials by the generic company were not exempted from patent infringement.25

In 2003, the Chinese Supreme People's Court delivered a draft judicial interpretation (for public comments) entitled "Provisions Concerning Several Issues in the Trials of Cases of Dispute over Patent Infringement," which proposed that an act of using a patented invention for the purpose of clinical trials to satisfy regulatory requirements shall be considered to fall into the scope of experimental use exemption. That draft, however, never became legally effective.

The case Sankyo Co., Ltd. v. Beijing Wansheng Drug Indus. Co., Ltd brought a new round of attention to this issue in 2006. In that case, Wansheng used a patented process owned by Sankyo for regulatory purpose. The final judgment found no infringement by Wansheng. However, the decision did not rely upon experimental use exemption. The court did not consider Wansheng's act as being for "business purpose." The court reasoned that the use of Sankyo's patent by Wansheng was necessitated by relevant government regulations, which require clinical trials of the drug to satisfy the requirements for obtaining a license for production; the purpose of the trial was to test the safety and efficacy of the drug but "not directly for sale of it."26 A similar opinion was delivered by the court in Elli Lilly v. Gan & Lee Pharm. in 2007.27

A provision, equivalent to the Bolar exemption in the U.S., was introduced for the first time in China's Patent Law when the Law was amended in 2008, which is currently in effect. Article 69 of the Chinese Patent Law recites "[t]he following shall not be deemed to be patent right infringement: . . . (4) [a]ny person uses the relevant patent specially for the purpose of scientific research and experimentation; and (5) [a]ny person produces, uses, or imports patented drugs or patented medical apparatus and instruments, for the purpose of providing information required for administrative examination and approval, or any other person produces or imports patented drugs or patented medical apparatus and instruments especially for that person".28 Notably, the Chinese Bolar exemption provision exists in parallel with the provision on general experimental use exemption.

Current Practice of Experimental Use Exemption

It does not seem that there are any precedential cases in China's judicial practice concerning experimental use exemption. As mentioned above, however, "experimental use" was generally considered as referring to scientific research and experimentations carried out specifically on the patented technology as such, but not those that are conducted by exploiting the patented technology as a means. This understanding is reflected in a directive delivered by Beijing Higher People's Court in 2013, entitled "Guidelines for Judgment of Patent Infringement"29 ("the Guidelines for patent infringement"), although that directive is not generally binding and is aimed only at providing guidance to the trials of patent cases in various courts in Beijing. In addition, the provisions on experimental use exemption are applicable regardless of whether the use is for a business purpose.

Current Practice of Bolar Exemption

There have not been any concluded cases where the court makes a decision based on the Bolar exemption provided in the Chinese Patent Law. Nevertheless, the court decisions in Sankyo Co., Ltd., v. Beijing Wansheng and Elli Lilly v. Gan & Lee Pharm. could shed some lights in the application of the Bolar exemption in China. As in those cases, the Bolar exemption in China could be applicable to drugs and medical devices that are made according to a patented process, as well as drugs and medical devices that are patented per se. In a regulative directive (on trial) enacted by the State Intellectual Property Office ("SIPO"), entitled "Guidelines for Determination of Patent Infringement and Passing Off," the Chinese Bolar exemption is interpreted as applicable not only to patents on drugs and medical devices as such, but also to those on an active ingredient of a drug, on a process for preparing a drug, on a process for preparing an active ingredient of a drug, on parts specifically for use in a medical device, and on a method of using a medical device.30 This directive is binding on local Intellectual Property Offices, which are government administrative agencies handling patent infringement complaints filed with them.

Furthermore, the Chinese Patent Law does not include sale and offering for sale in the listed acts applicable under the Bolar exemption. Usually, drugs and medical devices cannot be put on market when the regulatory approval process is still ongoing. As to acts of offering for sale such as display on a trade fair, it is believed that such acts have nothing to do with obtaining information for regulatory purposes and should be excluded from the Bolar exemption.31 In fact, these acts are indeed excluded from SIPO's directive noted above.

Another question that arises is whether foreign regulatory approval should be included in the Chinese Bolar exemption. The SIPO seems to believe that it is desirable to include both domestic and foreign regulatory approval in the Bolar exemption32 and it has indeed done so in its directive entitled "Guidelines for Determination of Patent Infringement and Passing Off." However, some courts seem to interpret the Bolar exemption as applicable only domestically.33


The experimental use exemption doctrines in the United States and China are conceptually similar, as both provide infringement exemptions in the experimental use context and in the context of pharmaceutical and medical device approval. However, it is to be noted that in China's codified patent law, experimental use exemption and Bolar exemption are separate, parallel provisions. In other words, Bolar exemption is not construed as being specific to experimental use exemption in the Chinese Patent Law. Perhaps the Chinese legislators were not able to categorize use of a patent for regulatory purpose into experimental use since the former could hardly be considered as pure philosophical use. Indeed, an act of applying for regulatory approval would usually be for the purpose of doing business but have little to do with philosophy.

The doctrines are applied differently in the two countries in several important aspects. For example, the Chinese experimental exemption doctrine appears to focus on the inquiry of how a potential infringer uses a patented technology (experimentation on the patented invention per se or employing the patented invention as a means), rather than the purpose of the use (business or philosophical). The United States, however, focuses on the latter.

Also, the Bolar exemption under 35 U.S.C. § 271(e)(1) encompasses an act of offering to sell or selling a patented invention, while the relevant Chinese statute does not include such an act in the exemption list. Another important difference between the legal frames of the United States and China is China's lack of patent term extension for a patent that covers an approved drug and a proper patent linkage system that links patent enforcement activities with the drug approval process. Thus, the Chinese Bolar exemption is often dubbed as a "naked" Bolar exemption, which offers competitive advantages to the generic drug companies but omits a balancing remedy to innovative drug companies.

Nevertheless, the current Chinese Patent Law is viewed by the authority as commensurate with the current state of the domestic pharmaceutical industry where innovation lags behind its U.S. counterpart. That being said, the innovative pharmaceutical industry in China is growing very fast and may demand further amendment of the Chinese patent and drug registration laws to more properly balance the incentives for innovation and access to affordable medicine.

The Authors thank Kumiko Kitaoka (law clerk at Finnegan) for her legal research and helpful discussion. The Authors also thank Ningling Wang (Managing Partner of Finnegan's Shanghai Office) for her critical input.

This article first appeared in AIPLA Biotech Buzz, January 2015


1. Whittemore v. Cutter, 29 F. Cas. 1120, 1121 (C.C.D. Mass. 1813).

2. Roche Prods. v. Bolar Pharm. Co., 733 F.2d 858, 863 (Fed. Cir. 1984)

3. Id. at 860.

4. Id.

. at 861.

6. Id. at 863.

7. Pub.L. No. 98-417, 98 Stat. 1585 (1984) (38 U.S.C. Section 271(e)(1)-(2) (2000)).

8. Madey v. Duke University, 307 F. 3d 1351, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

9. Id. at 1352.

10. Id. quoting Embrex, Inc. v. Serv. Eng'g Corp., 216 F.3d 1343, 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2000).

11. Madey,307 F.3d at 1362.

12. Eli Lilly & Co. v. Medtronic, Inc., 496 U.S. 661, 663, 110 S.Ct. 2683, 2685 (1990)

13. Id.

14. Merck KGaA v. Integra Lifesciences I, Ltd., 545 U.S. 193; 125 S.Ct. 2372; 162 L.Ed. 2d 160; 2005 U.S. LEXIS 4840. (2005)

15. AbTox, Inc. v. Exitron Corporation, 122 F.3d 1019, 1020 (Fed. Cir. 1997). modified 131 F. 3d 1009 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

16. Amgen, Inc. v. Hoechst Marion Roussel, Inc., 3 F. Supp. 2d 104, 106 (D. Mass. 1998)

17. Momenta Pharms., Inc. v. Amphastar Pharms., Inc., 686 F.3d 1348, 1359-60 (Fed. Cir. 2012).

18. Proveris Sci. Corp. v. Innovasystems, Inc., 536 F.3d 1256, 1265-66 (Fed. Cir. 2008)

19. Id.

20. Amgen, Inc. v. ITC, 565 F.3d 846, 852 (Fed. Cir. 2009).

21. PSN Ill., LLC v. Abbott Labs. & Abbott Bioresearch Ctr., Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108055(N.D. Ill. Sept. 20, 2011)

22. PSN Ill., LLC v. Abbott Labs. & Abbott Bioresearch Ctr., Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108055(N.D. Ill. Sept. 20, 2011)

23. Id.

24. Explication to the Newly-Adapted Patent Law (in Chinese only), written by Legal Affairs Department of the SIPO, Intellectual Property Publishing House Co., Ltd., 2001, pages 366-368.

25. Glaxo v. Southwest Synthetic Pharm. Corp., Ltd., 1995 Chong-Jing-Chu-Zi-406 (Chongqing 1st Interm. People's Ct. 1995).

26. Sankyo Co., Ltd.,v. Beijing Wansheng Drug Indus. Co., Ltd., 2006 Er-Zhong-Min-Chu-Zi-04134 (Beijing 2nd Interm. People's Ct. 2006).

27. Elli Lilly v. Gan & Lee Pharm. 2007 Er-Zhong-Min-Chu-Zi-13419-23 (Beijing 2nd Interm. People's Ct. 2007).

28. Art 69, Patent Law of the People's Republic of China (promulgated Dec 27, 2008, effective Oct 1, 2009), PRC President Order No.8 of 11th NPC. See

29. Art 123, Guideline for judgment of patent infringement. See Chinese only)

30. (in Chinese only), see Part I, Chapter Three, Section 7.

31. Yin Xintian. Introduction to the Patent Law of China (in Chinese only), 835 (Intellectual Property Publishing House Co., Ltd., 2011)

32. Supra. at 836.

33. Art. 124 of the Guidelines for patent infringement.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Sign Up
Gain free access to lawyers expertise from more than 250 countries.
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Newsalert
Select Topics
Select Regions
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions