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Transitory electrical and electromagnetic signals propagating through some medium, such as wires, air, or a vacuum, are not encompassed by any of the four enumerated categories which appear in 35 U.S.C.S. § 101: "process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter."
Petrus A.C.M. Nuijten (the “applicant”) sought a patent on a technique that improved existing watermark technology by modifying watermarked signals in a way that partially compensated for distortion introduced by the watermark. A patent examiner allowed the applicant's claim for a patent on the process he invented, a device that performed that process, and a storage medium holding the resulting signals, but disallowed the applicant's claims seeking a patent on encoded signals his technique used. The Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences reversed the examiner's decision denying several claims for obviousness-type double patenting, but upheld the examiner's decision disallowing four claims that sought protection of the encoded signals. The applicant appealed.
Were the encoded signals entitled to patent?
The court of appeals found that the Board reached the correct result when it disallowed the applicant's claims on the encoded signals. 35 U.S.C.S. § 101 allowed the applicant to obtain a patent on a "process," "machine," "manufacture," or "composition of matter," and the encoded signals he used in his technique did not qualify as a "process," "machine," "manufacture," or "composition of matter.