The European patent application 79 300 903.6 with the title "Method and apparatus for improved digital image processing was filed on 22.05.1979, claiming a priority of an US application of 26.05.78. The original claim filed with the application reads as following:

A method of digitally filtering a data array including the step of scanning said data array with a mask selected according to predetermined criteria,

characterised by

replacing said data array with the output of said scan as a new data array, and rescanning said new data array with a different mask selected according to said predetermined criteria a predetermined number of times.


Due to objections raised by the Examining Division the applicant changed the claims. Despite these claims the application was refused. The applicant appealt this decision.

In the decision "computer-related invention/VICOM" the board of appeal stated that there can be little doubt that any processing operation on an electric signal can be described in mathematical terms. The characteristci of a filter, for example can be expressed in terms of a mathematical formula, A basic difference between a mathematical method and a technical process can be seen, however, in the fact that a mathematical method or a mathematical algorithm is carried out on numbers (whatever these numbers may represent) and provides a result also in numerical form, the mathematical method or algorithm being only an abstract concept prescribing how to operate on the numbers. No direct technical result is produced by the method as such. In contrast thereto, if a mathematical method is used in a technical process, that process is carried out on a physical entity (which may be a material object but equally an image stored as na electrical signal) by some technical means implementing the method and provides as its result a certain change in that entity. The technical means might include a computer comprising suitable hardware or an appropriately programmed general purpose computer.

The Board therefore is of the opinion that even if the idea underlying an invention may be considered to reside in a mathematical method a claim directed to a technical process in which the method is used does not seek protection for the mathematical method as such.

A computer of known type set up to operate according to a new program cannot be considered as forming oar of the state of the art as defined by Article 54 (2) EPC.

Claims set up to operate considered as being directed to a computer set up to operate in accordance with a specified program (whether by means of hardware or software) for controlling or carrying out a technical process cannot be regarded as relating to a computer program as such and thus are not objectionable under Article 52(2)(c) and (3) EPC.