Today I saw this video about this video game called No Man's Sky. They say Hello Games - the creater of No Man's Sky - is possibly using a math formula patented by another compony.

This really surprised me, can you patent a math formula? And if so, how complex does it have to be? (Complex as in long or difficult, not the complex numbers.) Could someone for example patent the formula y = 3x - 5?

  • For reference, the patent in question
    – user3309
    Jul 21, 2016 at 14:38
  • 2
    What I think was being patented (see below) was not the math formula, but rather the use of the math formula to create "physical forms" such as pictures. That may be patentable. So you might be able to patent a particular picture of y = 3x - 5.
    – Libra
    Jul 21, 2016 at 17:44

2 Answers 2


I would imagine that you can't patent a math formula - It strikes me that a formula is a fact and you can't patent a fact.

I don't believe they are talking about the formula in the sense of a pure mathematical formula, rather they are talking about the way its applied - ie as a ranking system (which they argue is based on a mathematical formula). This is a much grayer area, and its patent-ability will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction [ again, assuming the case is as portrayed by the dutch company]. The youtube summary appears to be misleading (when compared with the documents in the video)


Math formulas are not patentable.

Gottschalk v Benson held that mathematical formula and mere algorithms for computing numbers cannot be patented, nor can claims that are so broad as to preclude all possible uses of such a formula or algorithm.

Alice v CLS bank is the Supreme Court's most recent restatement of this.

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