Citation Edit

In re Johnson, 589 F.2d 1070, 200 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 199 (C.C.P.A. 1978) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

The inventions in each of the three applications of these consolidated appeals involved methods for removing undesired noise from seismic data. It is quite common for seismic data to be recorded in digital form and for computers to be used in the processing of that data. The removal of noise or undesired signal components from the recorded data representations comprising a seismic record is a problem in the seismic exploration technique practiced in the petroleum industry.

The examiner rejected all of the claims as nonstatutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. §101, and some of the claims under 35 U.S.C. §102. The Board of Appeals, acting before the Supreme Court’s decision in Parker v. Flook,[1] affirmed the rejection of all of the claims under §101, relying on Gottschalk v. Benson[2] and In re Christensen[3] for the proposition that a patent cannot be granted for any “subject matter which is algorithmic in character.”

C.C.P.A. Proceedings Edit

The C.C.P.A. applied the precedent of Benson and Flook to the claimed invention. Focusing initially on Flook, the court found two important factional distinctions. First, the applicant did not allege any novel mathematical procedures and did not seek a patent on a mathematical formula. Second, the computations required in performing Johnson’s processes produced a noiseless seismic trace on a recording medium, not merely a mathematical value as in Flook.

Testing the claims under Benson’s “nutshell” holding, the court analyzed the claims to determine whether or not they merely recited a mathematical formula or a method of calculation. Applying the two-step test of In re Freeman, the court found all of the claims to be statutory subject matter and therefore patentable.

In response to the Government’s claim that the Benson and Flook decisions stand for the proposition that all computer programs are unpatentable, the court said:

Very simply, our decision today recognizes that modern technology has fostered a class of inventions which are most accurately described as computer-implemented processes. Such processes are encompassed within 35 U.S.C. §101 under the same principles as other machine-implemented processes, subject to judicially determined exceptions, inter alia, mathematical formulas, methods of calculations and mere ideas.


  1. 437 U.S. 584, 198 U.S.P.Q. 193 (1978) (full-text).
  2. 409 U.S. 63, 175 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 673 (C.C.P.A. 1972) (full-text).
  3. 478 F.2d 1392, 178 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 35 (C.C.P.A. 1973) (full-text).

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