No. 08-964 
In The 
Supreme Court of the United States 
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On Writ Of Certiorari To The 
United States Court Of Appeals 
For The Federal Circuit 
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  Counsel of Record 
801 California Street 
Mountain View, CA 94041 
(650) 988-8500 
Counsel for Amicus Curiae 
OR CALL COLLECT (402) 342-2831 

1.  Whether the Federal Circuit erred by holding 
that a “process” must be tied to a particular machine 
or apparatus, or transform a particular article into a 
different state or thing (“machine-or-transformation” 
test), to be eligible for patenting under 35 U.S.C. 
§ 101, despite this Court’s precedent declining to limit 
the broad statutory grant of patent eligibility for 
“any” new and useful process beyond excluding 
patents for “laws of nature, physical phenomena, and 
abstract ideas.”  
2. Whether the Federal Circuit’s “machine-or-
transformation” test for patent eligibility, which 
effectively forecloses meaningful patent protection to 
many business methods, contradicts the clear 
Congressional intent that patents protect “method[s] 
of doing or conducting business.” 35 U.S.C. § 273. 


ARGUMENT .....................................................  

DISCUSSION ......................................................  

FERENT CONCEPTS ...............................  

A.    Laws  of  Nature ....................................  

B.    Overbroad Claim Scope .......................  

C.    Lack  of  Specificity  ...............................  

D.     Manipulation  of  Intangibles ................   10 
EDENTS ....................................................   15 
CONCLUSION .....................................................   17 

Corning v. Burden, 56 U.S. 252 (1853) ........................ 9 
Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980) ......... 16 
Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175 (1981) ............ 5, 11, 12 
Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kalo Inoculant Co., 333 
U.S. 127 (1948) ...................................................... 7, 8 
Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U.S. 63 (1972) .................... 9 
Le Roy v. Tatham, 55 U.S. (14 How.) 156 (1852) ..... 6, 9 
Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co. v. Radio Corp. 
of America, 306 U.S. 86 (1939) ............................. 7, 8 
O’Reilly v. Morse, 56 U.S. 62 (1853) ................... 8, 9, 16 
Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584 (1978) ........................... 8 
Tilghman v. Proctor, 102 U.S. 707 (1880) .................. 16 
35 U.S.C. § 101 ................................................... passim 
35 U.S.C. § 102 ........................................................... 15 
35 U.S.C. § 103 ........................................................... 15 
35 U.S.C. § 112 ................................................ 10, 15, 16 
35 U.S.C. § 302 ........................................................... 16 
35 U.S.C. § 311 ............................................................ 16 
Supreme Court Rule 37 ............................................ 1, 2 

On Time Systems, Inc. is an advanced-technology 
company specializing in software for the optimization 
of complex industrial problems. The technology of 
On Time Systems has applications in numerous 
industries ranging from shipbuilding to the design 
of intelligent traffic control systems for urban areas. 
On Time Systems serves both public and private 
sector customers. The key executives at On Time 
Systems are Dr. Matthew Ginsberg and Dr. David 
Etherington, the co-founders of the University of 
Oregon’s Computational Intelligence Research 
Laboratory (“CIRL”). Since its foundation, CIRL has 
been a leading research laboratory in artificial 
intelligence, search optimization and constraint 
satisfaction. On Time Systems was created to work 
with CIRL to develop and commercialize applications 
of optimization technology. The personnel of On Time 
Systems have multidisciplinary education, training 
and industry experience. For example, Dr. Ginsberg’s 
education was as a relativistic astrophysicist and 
mathematician; Dr. Etherington was trained in 
computer science and artificial intelligence.  
On Time Systems holds a number of patents on 
its technologies, and at the same time is aware that 
1  In  accordance  with  Sup.  Ct.  R.  37,  On  Time  Systems 
states that this brief was not authored in whole or in part by 
counsel to a party, and that no monetary contribution to the 
preparation or submission of this brief was made by any person 
or entity other than this amicus curiae or its counsel. 

third parties hold patents on technologies in the 
various industry segments in which On Time Systems 
operates. Those patents are the result of extensive 
and expensive research and development. Without 
patent protection, the results of those efforts could be 
easily copied by competitors, dramatically reducing 
the incentives for innovation.  
On Time Systems has no interest in any party in 
the present case or any stake in the outcome of this 
case. Rather, On Time Systems has a strong interest 
that this Court interpret the patent law in a manner 
consistent with the constitutional underpinnings that 
have fostered the remarkable story of innovation that 
has defined this country from its agricultural 
beginnings, through the Industrial Age and now into 
the Information Age.2 
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The standard for patentability stated by the 
Federal Circuit below is too narrow. This brief 
addresses an issue that the Court will encounter 
in drawing the line between patentable and 
2  This brief is being filed with the consent of the parties. In 
accordance with Sup. Ct. R. 37.2(a), On Time Systems provided 
the parties with timely notice of its intention to file this amicus 
curiae brief. In accordance with Sup. Ct. R. 37.3(a), the parties 
have filed with the Clerk of this Court general consents to the 
filing of amicus briefs.  

unpatentable subject matter. Whether an “abstract” 
claim is patentable depends critically on what one 
means by “abstract.” This word has been used in 
many different ways in the analysis of patentable 
subject matter, often with little specificity as to the 
sense in which it is used. It is entirely appropriate for 
“abstract ideas” to be unpatentable if “abstract” refers 
to something qualitative considered apart from a 
subject or application, or if “ideas” refers to amor-
phous mental notions without any application outside 
the mind. Historically, claims directed to “laws of 
nature” have also been categorized as abstract ideas. 
One may question the accuracy of such categorization 
but the result, i.e., unpatentability, seems appropriate 
in this usage as well.  
However, when the word “abstract” is used to 
refer to specific applications that happen to manipu-
late abstract representations of things rather than 
physical objects, it is no longer sensible to presump-
tively rule out patentability on that basis alone. To 
extend a blanket preclusion against any claim labeled 
as “abstract” is to inaccurately conflate the distinct 
notions of abstractness and natural principles. Such a 
conflation does not honor the United States 
Constitution, the language used by Congress in § 101, 
this Court’s precedents, or the realities of modern life. 
Inventions can be patentable without being of a sort 
that would hurt if you dropped them on your foot. 
On Time Systems takes no position on whether 
Messrs. Bilski and Warsaw deserve a patent on their 
method for managing consumption risk costs. There 

may well be any number of reasons that such an 
invention should not be afforded patent protection. 
On Time Systems does, however, believe that the first 
question presented by the Court must be answered in 
the affirmative. The exclusive test for patentability 
asserted by the Federal Circuit is far too limited in its 
analysis, particularly in the context of modern 
technological advances. On Time Systems urges the 
Court to reject that standard in favor of a more 
flexible one that is consistent with the encompassing 
language of § 101. There is simply no reason in 
precedent or principle to limit patents to inventions 
that center on physical transformations or use of a 
particular machine. And, in rejecting the standard 
below, the Court should take care to distinguish 
carefully between different concepts of abstractness. 
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amici have addressed the “laws 
of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas” 
precedents of this Court in the briefs below and at the 
petition stage. On Time Systems will not repeat those 
presentations here. Rather, this brief will focus on a 
very narrow issue within the larger discussion: the 
various ways in which a process can be said to be 
“abstract” and how that impacts its patentability.  

Much commentary about the scope of patentable 
subject matter has addressed the relationships 
between processes and “laws of nature, natural 
phenomena, and abstract ideas” as discussed, for 
example, in Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 185 
(1981). There remains a paucity of discussion about 
what may or may not make a process abstract per se
This is a critical determination, since a process that is 
abstract in one sense may as a result be un-
patentable, while a process that is abstract in another 
sense should remain eligible for protection. The line-
drawing that needs to be done in this regard is 
admittedly difficult, as shown by the fact that many 
of this Court’s decisions regarding the boundaries of 
patentable subject matter have been accompanied by 
dissents evidencing a wide range of perspectives. This 
brief discusses four ways in which processes have 
been characterized as abstract. On Time Systems 
suggests that processes that are abstract solely 
because they involve manipulation of intangibles 
should not be disqualified from patent protection on 
that basis alone.  
On Time Systems is not the first to recognize the 
need to undertake more detailed consideration of the 
precise words used in patentability analysis. This 
Court recognized it over 150 years ago: 
The word principle is used by elementary 
writers on patent subjects, and sometimes in 
adjudications of courts, with such a want 
of precision in its application, as to mislead. 
It is admitted, that a principle is not 

patentable. A principle, in the abstract, is a 
fundamental truth; an original cause; a 
motive; these cannot be patented, as no one 
can claim in either of them an exclusive 
right. Nor can an exclusive right exist to a 
new power, should one be discovered in 
addition to those already known. Through 
the agency of machinery a new steam power 
may be said to have been generated. But no 
one can appropriate this power exclusively to 
himself, under the patent laws. The same 
may be said of electricity, and of any other 
power in nature, which is alike open to all, 
and may be applied to useful purposes by the 
use of machinery.  
In all such cases, the processes used to 
extract, modify, and concentrate natural 
agencies, constitute the invention. The 
elements of the power exist; the invention is 
not in discovering them, but in applying 
them to useful objects. 
Le Roy v. Tatham, 55 U.S. 156, 174-175 (1852).  
As detailed in the sections below, processes have 
historically been labeled as “abstract” in at least the 
four following distinct ways: (A) as reciting a law of 
nature; (B) as referring to a broad application of a law 
of nature without limitation; (C) as being vague 
and lacking specificity; and (D) as referring to 
manipulations of intangible entities. While there may 
be reason to preclude patentability for the first three 
categories, whether under § 101 or otherwise, there 
is no similar reason to condemn inventions as 

unpatentable solely because they can be placed in the 
last category. 
A.  Laws of Nature 
A first perspective on processes as abstractions 
focuses on those processes that merely recite a “law of 
nature,” and nothing more. Thus, a process of using 
the Pythagorean theorem to determine the length of a 
diagonal support piece (such as to support a wall 
during construction) is appropriately thought of as 
simply reciting and attempting to “own” that 
theorem. This Court has, on a number of occasions, 
held such processes to be unpatentable attempts to 
wholly appropriate natural principles.  
Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kalo Inoculant Co., 333 
U.S. 127, 132 (1948),  the Court recognized that an 
application of a newly discovered natural principle 
may be commercially valuable, but that is not 
sufficient to make a claimed invention patentable. 
“Even though it may have been the product of skill, it 
certainly was not the product of invention. There is 
no way in which we could call it such unless we 
borrowed invention from the discovery of the natural 
principle itself.” In contrast, in Mackay Radio & 
Telegraph Co. v. Radio Corp. of America, 306 U.S. 86, 
94 (1939), the Court held patentable an antenna 
structure based on a mathematical formula, and 
observed that, “While a scientific truth, or the 
mathematical expression of it, is not patentable 
invention, a novel and useful structure created with 

the aid of knowledge of scientific truth may be.” In 
Parker v. Flook, 437 U.S. 584, 591 (1978), the Court 
cited Funk Bros. and Mackay Radio for the analytical 
requirement that, “[T]he process itself, not merely the 
mathematical algorithm, must be new and useful.” 
Where a particular mathematical algorithm merely 
restates a scientific truth, a subject matter limitation 
based on “laws of nature” makes sense.  
B. Overbroad Claim Scope 
A second perspective linking processes with 
“abstract ideas” is based on the potential overbreadth 
of such claims. This perspective arises where the 
claim recites a desired effect or result, with little or 
no limitation as to the mechanism for achieving that 
For example, the Court found claim 8 of an 
invention by Samuel Morse to be unpatentable 
subject matter because it claimed use of 
electromagnetism to print intelligible characters at a 
distance, without regard to the means by which this 
could be accomplished. O’Reilly v. Morse, 56 U.S. 62, 
117-120 (1853). The Court expressed its concern that 
such a results-oriented claim, if allowed, would 
violate a longstanding tenet of patent law “that any 
one who afterwards discovered a method of 
accomplishing the same object, substantially and 
essentially differing from the one described, had a 
right to use it.” Id. at 119. The Court in that case 
could not reconcile such a broad grant with the 

language Congress chose to use in enacting the 
patent law.  
Over a hundred years later, the Court revisited 
O’Reilly and interim decisions in Gottschalk v. 
Benson, 409 U.S. 63, 68 (1972) and was likewise 
concerned about breadth, stating, “Here the ‘process’ 
claim is so abstract and sweeping as to cover both 
known and unknown uses of the BCD to pure binary 
C. Lack of Specificity 
A third perspective has to do with vagueness 
and ambiguity of claims, particularly disembodied 
thoughts that are “abstract” in the sense of “an 
abstract principle, which means a principle con-
sidered apart from any special purpose or practical 
operation. . . .”  Le Roy, 55 U.S. at 185 (Nelson, J., 
dissenting, quoting from the Lord Justice in a patent 
case before the Court of Sessions in Scotland).  
More recently, the Court in Benson observed that 
the chemical process and physical acts involved in an 
earlier case were “sufficiently definite to confine the 
patent monopoly within rather definite bounds.” 
Benson, 409 U.S. at 69 (distinguishing Corning v. 
Burden, 56 U.S. 252 (1853)). The use of the word 
“definite” twice in the same sentence suggests a focus 
not only on overbreadth as noted above, but also on 
lack of specificity. Concern about overbreadth of a 
patent claim can indeed come from either certainty 

that the claim covers too much subject matter or 
uncertainty about the boundaries of the claim.  
A process that is abstract in the sense that it 
remains unformed, ill-defined, or otherwise has not 
yet been reduced to reasonable certainty may well 
include subject matter that is outside the boundaries 
of 35 U.S.C. § 101. One of skill in the art would not be 
able to determine the metes and bounds of such a 
claim, and from that determine the scope of the 
inventor’s exclusive right. A patent drawn on such 
matter also violates various other provisions of the 
patent law, most notably the requirements in 35 
U.S.C. § 
112 relating to written description, 
enablement, best mode, and definiteness. While in 
certain circumstances the question of patentable 
subject matter may be the most appropriate manner 
of preventing such abstract descriptions from being 
awarded patent protection, in most cases the sensible 
first line of defense against those should be the more 
directly applicable provisions of § 112. 
D. Manipulation of Intangibles 
A fourth way in which processes can be “abstract” 
is the one most relevant to On Time Systems and 
thousands of other companies and individuals in their 
daily endeavors. This fourth perspective addresses 
processes that are abstract only in that they involve 
manipulation of items that are not physical objects. 
Often, these items are representations of real-world 
things. For instance, On Time Systems has developed 
software used to route airplanes to minimize fuel 

usage. This software uses various inputs, such as 
weather forecasts that predict wind speed. The 
personnel of On Time Systems do not necessarily 
measure wind speed directly, much less determine 
the actual force at which the constituent oxygen, 
nitrogen and other particles in the air strike an 
airplane fuselage. In this sense the processes 
developed by On Time Systems for determining 
desirable airplane routes or shipbuilding task 
schedules are abstract. Each such process deals 
primarily with representations of real world objects – 
abstractions – rather than with the real world objects 
For decades, patent applicants and the U.S. 
Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) have 
sidestepped the muddiness of the “abstract” label by 
arguing that their processes really are manipulating 
physical objects, even when it is clear to those in the 
art that such physical manifestations are not core to 
the real innovation. The typical example is a patent 
application related to an algorithm.3 Historically, 
3 This Court has recognized that the term “algorithm” is 
susceptible of various meanings and in the past has limited its 
consideration to purely mathematical algorithms. See, e.g.
Diehr, 450 U.S. at 186 n.9 (“Our previous decisions regarding 
the patentability of ‘algorithms’ are necessarily limited to the 
more narrow definition. . . .”). In its use in industry, “algorithm” 
(Continued on following page) 

applicants argue that their processes really are 
manipulating physical objects. They assert that 
computer memory is being manipulated (as it is), and 
suggest that this suffices to bind the abstract idea to 
a patentable process.  
Avoiding the issue of abstractness in this manner 
may work in individual cases, but does not lead to a 
robust, generalizable solution to the issue. True, there 
is some manner of physical manipulation of elements 
of computer memory, and this does provide an appro-
priate basis for showing statutory subject matter. But 
to argue that an algorithm is not a process that 
manipulates abstract entities is to profoundly 
misdescribe it. Some algorithms manipulate repre-
sentations of physical objects; others manipulate 
representations that may not have direct physical 
counterparts. There is no sound basis for making 
patentability turn solely on whether such a physical 
counterpart exists.  
The prohibition against patenting laws of nature 
would have appropriately prevented Isaac Newton 
is used synonymously with “process” and “method” as a way 
to do something. Algorithms may themselves manipulate 
entities that may be abstract (e.g., an algorithm for proving 
mathematical theorems) or may manipulate entities that refer 
to physical objects (e.g., an algorithm for determining how to 
load troops and materiel onto a fleet of cargo planes so as to 
minimize the number of planes needed for a mission). In Diehr
the Court expressly declined to pass judgment about the 
patentability of algorithms that are not mere recitations of 
mathematical formulas. Id

from patenting the laws of motion that bear his 
name. However, it is and should continue to be 
possible to patent a device that uses those laws of 
motion to accelerate a specific object, such as a 
bowling ball, to a set speed, such as seven miles per 
hour. A process for implementing such acceleration, 
specific to a bowling ball, is likewise patentable, even 
under the test set forth by the Federal Circuit below. 
The notion that such a process is unpatentable as 
usurping an idea is distinct from the issue of whether 
it deals with abstract entities rather than concrete 
objects. Computer algorithms are processes that just 
happen to manipulate data structures instead of 
bowling balls. Reliance on a statement that electrons 
in a computer’s processing unit should be considered 
like bowling balls leads to the correct result (i.e., 
patentable subject matter). However, such analysis 
leaves unaddressed the broader question of how to 
handle processes that do not have electrons or other 
physical counterparts on which the applicant can rely.  
The previously mentioned process for routing 
airplanes to minimize fuel burn is very unlikely, at 
the end of the day, to manipulate aircraft directly. At 
most, perhaps a piece of paper is printed that is 
presented to the pilot. The protectable innovation, 
assuming that there is one, is in the development of 
novel methods for producing the information that is 
given to the pilot. The end result is not a deflection of 
the airplane’s control surfaces. It is not the piece of 
paper. It is not the movement of electrons within the 
computer used to construct the flight plan. It is 
information itself, pure and simple. The patent bar, 

PTO and bench should expressly acknowledge that 
manipulation of information or other abstract entities 
can be as applicable to the real world as can 
manipulation of physical objects. None of this Court’s 
precedent precludes such recognition. 
As another example, consider one of the most 
important open questions in mathematics – the so-
called “Riemann hypothesis.” This hypothesis posits 
certain attributes of the “zeroes” or “roots” of a 
particular mathematical function, which are the 
points at which the function equals zero. While the 
hypothesis is entirely theoretical, the implications 
regarding the distribution of prime numbers, with 
corresponding ramifications on cryptography, are 
profound. Since being postulated 150 years ago, 
mathematicians and computer scientists have 
analyzed countless zeroes of the function in question, 
all suggesting that the hypothesis is true. To this day, 
however, the Riemann hypothesis remains no more 
than a hypothesis. From a practical perspective, if 
empirical evidence suggests that the hypothesis is 
true, it is irrelevant whether it is a scientific truth, as 
a process that assumes it to be true might well be 
extremely valuable in cryptographic applications. A 
patent claim based on this conjecture could hardly be 
said to usurp a scientific truth if the hypothesis has 
not been proven to be true (and may subsequently 
turn out to have been false all along), so any assertion 
of unpatentability must be based on something other 
than a “law of nature” argument. There is no basis 
under § 101 for precluding from patent protection a 

cryptographic process that manipulates abstract 
representations in accordance with this hypothesis. 
Responding to the first question presented by the 
Court, the “machine-or-transformation” test utterly 
fails to recognize that at least some processes that 
manipulate abstract entities are eligible for patent 
protection, as set forth above. None of the Court’s 
decisions recited above calls for such a blanket 
prohibition whenever a claimed process operates on 
things that are not physical. 
Congress has been careful to draft into the patent 
law a highly inclusive description of patentable 
subject matter in § 101, while at the same time 
providing a number of filters in other sections to 
ensure that inappropriate subject matter does not get 
the benefit of patent protection. Sections 102 and 103 
of the statute, both styled as “Conditions for 
patentability . . . ” in their titles, protect against 
granting patents where prior work is the same as, or 
makes obvious, a newly claimed invention. Section 
112 prevents vague and undeveloped notions from 
being conferred patent rights, requiring that a 
specification “contain a written description of the 
invention, and of the manner and process of making 
and using it, in such full, clear, concise and exact 
terms as to enable any person skilled in the art . . . to 

make and use the same. . . .”4 Sections 302 and 311 
permit the public to request ex parte and inter partes 
reexamination of a patent that may have been 
improvidently granted. Section 101, in contrast, 
provides language that can only be read as broad and 
permissive rather than limiting. As noted by this 
court in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303, 308 
(1980), in choosing expansive terms for § 
“modified by the comprehensive ‘any,’ Congress 
plainly contemplated that the patent laws be given 
wide scope.” Congressional intent would hardly be 
served by foreclosing protection for processes that 
operate on intangibles, which are now such an 
important component of our industrial base. 
----------------- ♦ ----------------- 
4 In Tilghman v. Proctor, 102 U.S. 707, 727-728 (1880), the 
Court analyzed the scope of patentability of processes and 
quoted from O’Reilly, 56 U.S. 119 to establish that an inventor 
deserves a patent 
[P]rovided he specifies the means he uses in a manner 
so full and exact that any one skilled in the science to 
which it appertains can, by using the means he 
specifies, without any addition to or subtraction from 
them, produce precisely the result he describes. And if 
this cannot be done by the means he describes, the 
patent is void. 
O’Reilly, 56 U.S. 119. The Court in Tilghman  held  that  such 
analysis (which would be § 112 analysis under today’s patent 
law), “affords the key to almost every case that can arise.” 102 
U.S. at 728. 

A process that is “abstract” because it does little 
more than recite a law of nature is qualitatively 
distinct from a process that is “abstract” because it 
manipulates non-concrete entities. As evidenced by 
the fact that a large portion of the world’s industrial 
product is now comprised of intangible assets as 
opposed to material ones, modern society considers 
these non-physical objects to be just as “real” as their 
concrete counterparts. A new organism’s genetic code 
is as real as (and in a philosophical sense in-
distinguishable from) the organism itself. A digital 
circuit is a digital circuit, whether expressed as a 
Boolean truth table, a state diagram, or a schematic 
of interconnected electronic components. Nothing in 
101 or in this Court’s precedents calls for a 
talismanic requirement that a process, in order to be 
patentable, must be tied to a particular machine or 
transform a particular article into a different state or 
thing. The evolution of science and technology 
requires us to recognize that manipulations of 
representations are fully within the scope of 
patentable subject matter.  
The Federal Circuit erred in asserting that the 
“machine-or-transformation” test is the exclusive 
analytical tool to be used to determine whether a 
process claim recites patentable subject matter. The 
Court should reject the narrow standard asserted 
below, and at the same time remain vigilant against 
endorsing any limitations that might have similar 
harmful effects. Some claims that are characterized 

as “abstract” are properly excluded from 
patentability, but others clearly should not be. 
Specifically, the mere fact that a claimed process 
manipulates abstract entities should not be sufficient 
reason to consider it nonstatutory subject matter for 
Respectfully submitted, 
  Counsel of Record 
801 California Street 
Mountain View, CA 94041 
(650) 988-8500 
  Counsel for Amicus Curiae