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The Situation

Arrhythmia Research Tech. had a patent for a device which analyses electrocardiographic signals in order to determine certain characteristics of heart function which indicate a patients risk for ventricular tachycardia.

  • The patent involves mathematical calculations for interpretation of a hearts electrical signals
The patent was ruled invalid through failure to meet the terms of Section 101 (patentable subject matter) in a summary judgement by the District Court of Northern Texas.
  • Arrhythmia appeals the decision.

The Decision

The Appellate Court reverses the District Court opinion, ruling the patent valid.

The Reasoning

  • Computers are "generally recognized as devices of performing or impementing process steps, or serving as components of an apparatus, without negating patentability of the process or the apparatus" - computers are a tool for implementing a process, which does not negate patentability.
  • While claims "directed solely to an abstract mathematical formula or equation" are not patentable, those which are to "specific process or apparatus that is implemented in accordance with a mathematical algorithm" are patentable.
Freeman-Walter-Abele Test
  • (1)Is there an algorithm involved? (2)Is the invention more than just that algorithm? - If yes, and yes, then the claim is patentable.
  • Read this as: To be patentable, a claim must require "more than that the algorithm be 'applied in any manner to physical elements or process steps'"
    • When an algorithm is applied "in one or more steps of an otherwise statutory process claim" the claim is patentable.
  • Arrhythmia's claims are a "process" because the transformation of one electrical signal into another should be viewed in the same light as a transformation of material.

Concurring Opinion:

The "algorithm rule," as applied by the Freeman-Walter-Abele Test is a narrowing of the original statue of the 1952 Patent Act; in order to properly decide the case, the reasoning should apply directly to the Act.
  • The three excluded subject matters in the Act are "laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas" - Arrythmia's invention is none of these things. It meets the qualifications of being a "process" (and also an "apparatus"), and thus it should be patentable.

In Class

Gottschalk v. Benson: "First principles" should be where you "draw the line" as far as patentability Held in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

  • Key part of the invention: "reverse time order" - if someone does this not in reverse time order, then the patent isn't infringed.
  • A "question of law" vs. a question of fact: pertains to the courts breadth of authority - because it is a question of law, this Court can review all the facts, make a decision, and send the case back; if it were a question of fact, then this court has to be unquestionably sure that the district court was wrong in order to make a judgement (they have limited authority).
  • Key word: "Wholly pre-empts" - meaning you can't patent something that would restrict others from using a basic, "first principle" equation
  • Basic status of law at this time: If your algorithm is in some way tied to an apparatus or process than it is patentable.
  • Tests like Freeman-Walter-Abele were created to simplify the work of the Patent Office which takes its cue from the Courts. Also, having simple rules helps inventors decide whether or not their invention is patentable.