Talk:Arrhythmia Research Technology, Inc. v. Corazonix Corp., 958 F.2d 1053 (1992)

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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.

A mathematical formula may describe a law of nature, a scientific truth, or an abstract idea. As courts have recognized, mathematics may also be used to describe steps of a statutory method or elements of a statutory apparatus. The exceptions to patentable subject matter derive from a lengthy jurisprudence, but their meaning was probed anew with the advent of computer-related inventions.

It is of course true that a modern digital computer manipulates data, usually in binary form, by performing mathematical operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, or bit shifting, on the data. But this is only how the computer does what it does. Of importance is the significance of the data and their manipulation in the real world, i.e., what the computer is doing. [Emphases in original]

Thus computers came to be generally recognized as devices capable of performing or implementing process steps, or serving as components of an apparatus, without negating patentability of the process or the apparatus.

The law crystallized about the principle that claims directed solely to an abstract mathematical formula or equation, including the mathematical expression of scientific truth or a law of nature, whether directly or indirectly stated, are nonstatutory under section 101; whereas claims to a specific process or apparatus that is implemented in accordance with a mathematical algorithm will generally satisfy section 101.

In applying this principle to an invention whose process steps or apparatus elements are described at least in part in terms of mathematical procedures, the mathematical procedures are considered in the context of the claimed invention as a whole.

This analysis has been designated the Freeman-Walter-Abele test for statutory subject matter. It is first determined whether a mathematical algorithm is recited directly or indirectly in the claim. If so, it is next determined whether the claimed invention as a whole is no more than the algorithm itself; that is, whether the claim is directed to a mathematical algorithm that is not applied to or limited by physical elements or process steps. Such claims are nonstatutory. However, when the mathematical algorithm is applied in one or more steps of an otherwise statutory process claim, or one or more elements of an otherwise statutory apparatus claim, the requirements of section 101 are met. The court explained in Abele, 684 F.2d at 907, 214 USPQ at 686:

Although mathematical calculations are involved in carrying out the claimed process, Arrhythmia Research argues that the claims are directed to a method of detection of a certain heart condition by a novel method of analyzing a portion of the electrocardiographically measured heart cycle. This is accomplished by procedures conducted by means of electronic equipment programmed to perform mathematical computation.

The '459 Patent The '459 patent discloses an apparatus and a method for analyzing electrocardiograph signals to detect heart attack risks. The apparatus is a machine and is covered by the Iwahashi rule. The method converts an analog signal to a digital signal which passes, in reverse time order, through the mathematical equivalent of a filter. The filtered signal's amplitude is then measured and compared with a predetermined value.

The '459 invention manipulates electrocardiogram readings to render a useful result. While many steps in the '459 process involve the mathematical manipulation of data, the claims do not describe a law of nature or a natural phenomenon. Furthermore, the claims do not disclose mere abstract ideas, but a practical and potentially life-saving process. Regardless of whether performed by a computer, these steps comprise a “process” within the meaning of section 101.

This conclusion is erroneous for several reasons. First, even if mathematical algorithms are barred from patentability,[7] the '459 patent as a whole does not present a mathematical algorithm. The '459 patent is a method for detecting the risk of a heart attack, not the presentation and proposed solution of a mathematical problem. In Diehr, the Supreme Court viewed the claims as “an industrial process for molding of rubber products,” not a mathematical algorithm. 450 U.S. at 192-93, 101 S.Ct. at 1060. The '459 patent's claims as a whole disclose a patentable process.

Second, the '459 patent does not claim a natural law, abstract idea, or natural phenomenon. Diehr limited the Benson rule to these three categories, none of which encompass the '459 patent.

The claims of the '459 patent define an apparatus and a process. Both are patentable subject matter within the language of section 101. To me, the Supreme Court's most recent message is clear: when all else fails (and the algorithm rule clearly has), consult the statute. On this basis, I, too, would reverse and remand.