Gottschalk v. Benson (JWB)

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The Case

  • Gottschalk, acting Commissioner of Patents (petitioner)
  • Respondent developed method for converting numerical information from binary-coded decimal numbers into pure binary numbers
  • ruled merely a series of mathematical calculations or mental steps (not a patentable “process”)
  • Claims 8 and 13 rejected by PTO but sustained by Court of Customs and Patent Appeals
    • claims are generalized formulation for programs to solve mathematical problems of converting one form to another
  • Supreme Court reversed
    • conversion can be done by humans, or by current computers (takes longer)
    • Phenomena of nature, though just discovered, mental processes, and abstract intellectual concepts are not patentable
    • Transformation and reduction of an article "to a different state or thing" is the clue to the patentability of a process claim that does not include particular machines
    • the patent would wholly pre-empt the mathematical formula and in practical effect would be a patent on the algorithm itself