450 U.S. 175 (1981), 79-1112, Diamond v. Diehr

Docket Nº:No. 79-1112
Citation:450 U.S. 175, 101 S.Ct. 1048, 67 L.Ed.2d 155
Party Name:Diamond v. Diehr
Case Date:March 03, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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450 U.S. 175 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1048, 67 L.Ed.2d 155

Diamond

v.

Diehr

No. 79-1112

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1981

Argued October 14, 1980

CERTIORARI TO TIE UNITED STATES COURT OF

CUSTOMS AND PATENT APPEALS

Syllabus

Respondents filed a patent application claiming invention for a process for molding raw, uncured synthetic rubber into cured precision products. While it was possible, by using well-known time, temperature, and cure relationships, to calculate by means of an established mathematical equation when to open the molding press and remove the cured product, according to respondents, the industry had not been able to measure precisely the temperature inside the press, thus making it difficult to make the necessary computations to determine the proper cure time. Respondents characterized their contribution to the art to reside in the process of constantly measuring the temperature inside the mold and feeding the temperature measurements into a computer that repeatedly recalculates the cure time by use of the mathematical equation and then signals a device to open the press at the proper time. The patent examiner rejected respondents' claims on the ground that they were drawn to nonstatutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101, which provides for the issuance of patents to

[w]hoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. . . .

The Patent and Trademark Office Board of Appeals agreed, but the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals reversed.

Held: Respondents' claims recited subject matter that was eligible for patent protection under § 101. Pp. 181-193.

(a) For purposes of § 101, a "process" is

an act, or a series of acts, performed upon the subject matter to be transformed and reduced to a different state or thing. If new and useful, it is just as patentable as is a piece of machinery. . . . The machinery pointed out as suitable to perform the process may or may not be new or patentable.

Cochrane v. Deener, 94 U.S. 780, 788. Industrial processes such as respondents' claims for transforming raw, uncured synthetic rubber into a different state or thing are the types which have historically been eligible to receive patent law protection. Pp. 181-184.

(b) While a mathematical formula, like a law of nature, cannot be the subject of a patent, cf. Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63; Parker v.

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Flook, 437 U.S. 54, respondents do not seek to patent a mathematical formula, but instead seek protection for a process of curing synthetic rubber. Although their process employs a well-known mathematical equation, they do not seek to preempt the use of that equation, except in conjunction with all of the other steps in their claimed process. A claim drawn to subject matter otherwise statutory does not become nonstatutory simply because it uses a mathematical formula, computer program, or digital computer. Respondents' claims must be considered as a whole, it being inappropriate to dissect the claims into old and new elements and then to ignore the presence of the old elements in the analysis. The questions of whether a particular invention meets the "novelty" requirements of 35 U.S.C. § 102 or the "nonobviousness" requirements of § 103 do not affect the determination of whether the invention falls into a category of subject matter that is eligible for patent protection under § 101. Pp. 185-191.

(c) When a claim containing a mathematical formula implements or applies the formula in a structure or process which, when considered as a whole, is performing a function which the patent laws were designed to protect (e.g., transforming or reducing an article to a different state or thing), then the claim satisfies § 101's requirements. Pp. 191-193.

602 F.2d 982, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, and POWELL, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 193.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to determine whether a process for curing synthetic rubber which includes in several of its steps the use of a mathematical formula and a programmed digital computer is patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.

I

The patent application at issue was filed by the respondents on August 6, 1975. The claimed invention is a process for molding raw, uncured synthetic rubber into cured precision products. The process uses a mold for precisely shaping the uncured material under heat and pressure and then curing the synthetic rubber in the mold so that the product will retain its shape and be functionally operative after the molding is completed.1

Respondents claim that their process ensures the production of molded articles which are properly cured. Achieving the perfect cure depends upon several factors, including the thickness of the article to be molded, the temperature of the molding process, and the amount of time that the article is allowed to remain in the press. It is possible, using well-known time, temperature, and cure relationships, to calculate by means of the Arrhenius equation2 when to open the press

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and remove the cured product. Nonetheless, according to the respondents, the industry has not been able to obtain uniformly accurate cures, because the temperature of the molding press could not be precisely measured, thus making it difficult to do the necessary computations to determine cure time.3 Because the temperature inside the press has heretofore been viewed as an uncontrollable variable, the conventional industry practice has been to calculate the cure time as the shortest time in which all parts of the product will definitely be cured, assuming a reasonable amount of mold-opening time during loading and unloading. But the shortcoming of this practice is that operating with an uncontrollable variable inevitably led in some instances to overestimating the mold-opening time and overcuring the rubber, and in other instances to underestimating that time and undercuring the product.4

Respondents characterize their contribution to the art to reside in the process of constantly measuring the actual temperature inside the mold. These temperature measurements are then automatically fed into [101 S.Ct. 1053] a computer which repeatedly recalculates the cure time by use of the Arrhenius equation.

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When the recalculated time equals the actual time that has elapsed since the press was closed, the computer signals a device to open the press. According to the respondents, the continuous measuring of the temperature inside the mold cavity, the feeding of this information to a digital computer which constantly recalculates the cure time, and the signaling by the computer to open the press are all new in the art.

The patent examiner rejected the respondents' claims on the sole ground that they were drawn to nonstatutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.5 He determined that those

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steps in respondents' claims that are carried out by a computer under control of a stored program constituted nonstatutory subject matter under this Court's decision in Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63 (1972). The remaining steps -- installing rubber in the press and the subsequent closing of the

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press -- were "conventional and necessary to the process, and cannot be the basis of patentability." The examiner concluded that respondents' claims defined and sought protection of a computer program for operating a rubber-molding press.

The Patent and Trademark Office Board of Appeals agreed with the examiner, but the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals reversed. In re Diehr, 602 F.2d 892 (1979). The court noted that a claim drawn to subject matter otherwise statutory does not become nonstatutory because a computer is involved. The respondents' claims were not directed to a mathematical algorithm or an improved method of calculation, but rather recited an improved process for molding rubber articles by solving a practical problem which had arisen in the molding of rubber products.

The Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks sought certiorari, arguing that the decision of the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals was inconsistent with prior decisions of this Court. Because of the importance of the question presented, we granted the writ. 445 U.S. 926 (1980).

II

Last Term, in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980), this Court discussed the historical purposes of the patent laws, and, in particular, 35 U.S.C. § 101. As in Chakrabarty, we must here construe 35 U.S.C. § 101, which provides:

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.6

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In cases of statutory construction, we begin with the language of the statute. Unless otherwise defined, "words will be interpreted as taking their ordinary, contemporary common meaning," Perrin v. United States, 444 U.S. 37, 42 (1979), and, in dealing with the patent laws, we have more than once cautioned that "courts `should not read into the patent laws limitations and conditions which the legislature has not expressed.'" Diamond v. Chakrabarty, supra, at 308, quoting United States v. Dubilier Condenser Corp., 289 U.S. 178, 199 (1933).

The Patent Act of 1793 defined statutory subject matter as "any new and useful art, machine, manufacture or composition of matter, or any new or useful...

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