Gottschalk v. Benson

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In Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63 (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court excluded patents and software from patentability:

"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."

Id. at 70.

The Benson decision defined an "algorithm" as a "procedure for solving a given type of mathematical problem." 409 U.S. at 65. It then held:

"It is conceded that one may not patent an idea. But in practical effect that would be the result if the formula [i.e., algorithm] for converting BCD [binary-coded decimal] numerals to pure binary numerals were patented in this case." (emphasis added).

409 U.S. at 71-72.

Note that patents are statutorily granted only to new processes, with the term "process" defined as "process, art or method, [including] a new use of a known process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or material." 35 U.S.C. § 100(b) (1982).