409 U.S. 63 (1972), 71-485, Gottschalk v. Benson

Docket Nº:No. 71-485
Citation:409 U.S. 63, 93 S.Ct. 253, 34 L.Ed.2d 273
Party Name:Gottschalk v. Benson
Case Date:November 20, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court

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409 U.S. 63 (1972)

93 S.Ct. 253, 34 L.Ed.2d 273




No. 71-485

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 20, 1972

Argued October 16, 1972




Respondents' method for converting numerical information from binary-coded decimal numbers into pure binary numbers, for use in programming conventional general purpose digital computers, is merely a series of mathematical calculations or mental steps, and does not constitute a patentable "process" within the meaning of the Patent Act, 35 U.S.C. § 100(b). Pp. 64-73.

___ C.C.P.A. (Pat.) ___, 441 F.2d 682, reversed.

DOUGLAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all members joined except STEWART, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondents filed in the Patent Office an application for an invention which [93 S.Ct. 254] was described as being related "to the processing of data by program and more particularly to the programmed conversion of numerical information" in general purpose digital computers. They claimed a method for converting binary-coded decimal (BCD) numerals into pure binary numerals. The claims were not limited to any particular art or technology, to any particular apparatus or machinery, or to any particular end use. They purported to cover any use of the claimed method in a general purpose digital computer of any type. Claims 8 and 131 were rejected by the Patent Office but sustained by the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, C.C.P.A. (Pat.) , 441 F.2d 682. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari. 405 U.S. 915.

The question is whether the method described and claimed is a "process" within the meaning of the Patent Act.2

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A digital computer, as distinguished from an analog computer, operates on data expressed in digits, solving a problem by doing arithmetic as a person would do it by head and hand.3 Some of the digits are stored as components of the computer. Others are introduced into the computer in a form which it is designed to recognize. The computer operates then upon both new and previously stored data. The general purpose computer is designed to perform operations under many different programs.

The representation of numbers may be in the form of a time series of electrical impulses, magnetized spots on the surface of tapes, drums, or discs, charged spots on cathode-ray tube screens, the presence or absence of punched holes on paper cards, or other devices. The method or program is a sequence of coded instructions for a digital computer.

The patent sought is on a method of programming a general purpose digital computer to convert signals from binary-coded decimal form into pure binary form. A procedure for solving a given type of mathematical problem is known as an "algorithm." The procedures set forth in the present claims are of that kind; that is to say, they are a generalized formulation for programs to solve mathematical problems of converting one form of numerical representation to another. From the generic formulation, programs may be developed as specific applications.

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The decimal system uses as digits the 10 symbols 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. The value represented by any digit depends, as it does in any positional system of notation, both on its individual value and on its relative position in the numeral. Decimal numerals are written by placing digits in the appropriate positions or columns of the numerical sequence, i.e., "unit" (10^0), "tens" (10^1), "hundreds" (10^2), "thousands" (10^3), etc. Accordingly, the numeral 1492 signifies (1 x 10^3)+(4 x 10^2)+(9 x 10^1)+(2 x 10^0).

The pure binary system of positional notation uses two symbols as digits -- 0 and 1, placed in a numerical sequence with values based on consecutively ascending powers of 2. In pure binary notation, what would be the tens position is the twos position; what would be hundreds position is the fours position; what would be the thousands position is the eights. Any decimal number from 0 to 10 can be represented [93 S.Ct. 255] in the binary system with four digits or positions as indicated in the following table.

Shown as the sum of powers of 2

2^3 2^2 2^1 2^0

Decimal (8) (4) (2) (1) Pure Binary

0 = 0 0 0 0 = 0000

1 = 0 0 0 2^0 = 0001

2 = 0 0 2^1 0 = 0010

3 = 0 0 2^1 2^0 = 0011

4 = 0 2^2 0 0 = 0100

5 = 0 2^2 0 2^0 = 0101

6 = 0 2^2 2^1 0 = 0110

7 = 0 2^2 2^1 2^0 = 0111

8 = 2^3 0 0 0 = 1000

9 = 2^3 0 0 2^0 = 1001

10 = 2^3 0 2^1 0 = 1010

The BCD system using decimal numerals replaces the character for each component decimal digit in the decimal numeral with the corresponding four-digit binary

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numeral, shown in the right-hand column of the table. Thus, decimal 53 is represented as 0101 0011 in BCD, because decimal 5 is equal to binary 0101 and decimal 3 is equivalent to binary 0011. In pure binary notation, however, decimal 53 equals binary 110101. The conversion of BCD numerals to pure binary numerals can be done mentally through use of the foregoing table. The method sought to be patented varies the ordinary arithmetic steps a human would use by changing the order of the steps, changing the symbolism for writing the multiplier used in some steps, and by taking subtotals...

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