Arrhythmia Research Technology, Inc. v. Corazonix Corp. (JWB)

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The Case

  • District Court of Northern Texas declared Arrhythmia’s (Simson’s) patent invalid under 35 USC 101, and Arrhythmia (plaintiff) appealed
  • Patent
    • directed to the analysis of electrocardiographic signals in order to determine certain characteristics of the heart function
    • With patients subject to ventricular tachycardia (post heart attack) certain anomalous waves having very low amplitude and high frequency, known as “late potentials,” appear toward the end of the QRS
    • Dr. Simson's method of detecting and measuring these late potentials in the QRS complex, and associated apparatus, are the subject of the '459 patent
    • Certain steps of the invention are described as conducted with the aid of a digital computer, and the patent specification sets forth the mathematical formulae that are used to configure (program) the computer

Relevant Cases

  • 1972 Gottschalk v. Benson: a patent claim that “wholly pre-empts” a mathematical formula used in a general purpose digital computer is directed solely to a mathematical algorithm, and therefore does not define statutory subject matter under section 101
  • 1978 Parker v. Flook: the criterion for patentability of a claim that requires the use of mathematical procedures is not simply whether the claim “wholly pre-empts” a mathematical algorithm, but whether the claim is directed to a new and useful process, independent of whether the mathematical algorithm is novel
  • 1981 Diamond v. Diehr: While a scientific truth, or the mathematical expression of it, is not a patentable invention, a novel and useful structure created with the aid of knowledge of scientific truth may be.


  • The district court held that the method and apparatus claims of the Simson patent are directed to a mathematical algorithm, and thus do not define statutory subject matter
  • Freeman-Walter-Abele analysis: 1. Is algorithm recited directly or indirectly in the claim? 2. If so, is the invention no more than the algorithm itself? i.e. the algorithm must be ‘applied in any manner to physical elements or process steps’
    • Arrhythmia states that the claims involve the combination of physical, mechanical, and electrical steps
    • Corazonix states the claims define no more than an algorithm that calculates a number
    • Step 1: Court found that claims did include algorithm
    • Step 2: claimed steps of “converting”, “applying”, “determining”, and “comparing” are physical process steps that transform one physical, electrical signal into another. The view that “there is nothing necessarily physical about ‘signals' ” is incorrect.
  • Corazonix claimed that the output is just a number, but “the number obtained is not a mathematical abstraction; it is a measure in microvolts of a specified heart activity, an indicator of the risk of ventricular tachycardia”
  • Court of Appeals reversed

Concurring Opinion

  • A “formula” does not present or solve a mathematical problem, but merely expresses a relationship in mathematical terms. A “formula,” even under Benson's definition, is not an algorithm.
  • Freeman-Walter is not only test, and is sometimes thrown out
    • “algorithm” is obscure term, never fully defined
  • after Diehr, only a mathematical procedure for solution of a specified mathematical problem is suspect subject matter
    • By strictly limiting Benson, the Supreme Court signaled a change in the focus for patentability from the algorithm rule to the statutory standards of the Patent Act