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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) creates a comprehensive scheme to pay compensation for an eligible employee’s disability or death resulting from injury occurring upon the navigable waters of the United States. Benefits for most types of disabilities are capped at twice the national average weekly wage for the fiscal year in which an injured employee is “newly awarded compensation.” 33 U. S. C. §906(c). The LHWCA requires employers to pay benefits voluntarily, without formal administrative proceedings. Typically, employers pay benefits without contesting liability, so no compensation orders are issued. However, if an employer controverts liability, or an employee contests his employer’s actions with respect to his benefits, the dispute proceeds to the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) to be resolved, if possible, through informal procedures. An informal disposition may result in a compensation order. If not resolved informally, the dispute is referred to an administrative law judge (ALJ), who conducts a hearing and issues a compensation order. In fiscal year 2002, petitioner Roberts was injured at an Alaska marine terminal while working for respondent Sea-Land Services, Inc. Sea-Land (except for six weeks in 2003) voluntarily paid Roberts benefits until fiscal year 2005. Roberts then filed an LHWCA claim, and Sea-Land controverted. In fiscal year 2007, an ALJ awarded Roberts benefits at the fiscal year 2002 statutory maximum rate. Roberts sought reconsideration, contending that the award should have been set at the higher statutory maximum rate for fiscal year 2007, when, he argued, he was “newly awarded compensation” by order of the ALJ. The ALJ denied his motion, and the Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board affirmed, concluding that the perti- 2 ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC. Syllabus nent maximum rate is determined by the date disability commences. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Held: An employee is “newly awarded compensation” when he first becomes disabled and thereby becomes statutorily entitled to benefits, no matter whether, or when, a compensation order issues on his behalf. Pp. 5−18. (a) Roberts contends that the statutory term “awarded compensation” means “awarded compensation in a formal order,” while SeaLand and the Director, OWCP, maintain that it means “statutorily entitled to compensation because of disability.” Although §906 can be interpreted either way, only Sea-Land and the Director’s interpretation makes §906 a working part of the statutory scheme. Under Roberts’ interpretation, no employee receiving voluntary payments has been “awarded compensation,” so none is subject to an identifiable maximum rate of compensation. That result is incompatible with the LHWCA’s design. Section 906(b)(1) caps compensation at twice the applicable national average weekly wage, as determined by the Secretary of Labor. Section 906(b)(3), in turn, directs the Secretary to determine that wage before each fiscal year begins, at which time it becomes the “applicable national average weekly wage” for the coming fiscal year. And §906(c), in its turn, provides that the Secretary’s determination shall apply to those “newly awarded compensation” during such fiscal year. Through a series of cross-references, the three provisions work together to cap disability benefits. By its terms, and subject to one express exception, §906(b)(1) specifies that the cap applies globally, to all disability claims. Because all three provisions interlock, the cap functions as Congress intended only if §906(c) also applies globally, to all such cases. Roberts’ interpretation would give §906(c) no application in the many cases in which no formal orders issue. Using the national average weekly wage for the fiscal year in which an employee becomes disabled coheres with the LHWCA’s administrative structure. An employer must be able to calculate the cap in order to pay benefits within 14 days of notice of an employee’s disability, see §914(b), and in order to certify to the Department of Labor whether the maximum rate is being paid. Similarly, an OWCP claims examiner must verify the compensation rate in light of the applicable cap. It is difficult to see how an employer or claims examiner can use a national average weekly wage other than the one in effect at the time an employee becomes disabled. Moreover, applying the national average weekly wage for the fiscal year in which an employee becomes disabled advances the LHWCA’s purpose to compensate disability, defined as “incapacity because of injury to earn the wages which the employee was receiving at the time of injury.” Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012) 3 Syllabus §902(10). It also avoids disparate treatment of similarly situated employees; Roberts’ reading would permit two employees who earn the same salary and suffer the same injury on the same day to receive different maximum compensation rates based on the happenstance of their obtaining orders in different fiscal years. Finally, applying the national average weekly wage for the fiscal year in which disability commences discourages gamesmanship in the claims process. If the fiscal year in which an order issues were to determine the cap, the fact that the national average wage rises each year with inflation would be unduly significant. Roberts’ rule would reward employees who receive voluntary payments with windfalls for initiating unnecessary administrative proceedings to secure a higher rate, while simultaneously punishing employers who have complied fully with their statutory obligations to make voluntary payments. Pp. 5−13. (b) Roberts’ counterarguments are unconvincing. First, although the LHWCA sometimes uses “award” to mean “award in a formal order,” the presumption that identical words used in different parts of the same Act are intended to have the same meaning, readily yields whenever, as here, the variation in the word’s use in the LHWCA reasonably warrants the conclusion that it was employed in different parts of the Act with different intent. See General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U. S. 581, 595. Second, Roberts argues that, because this Court has refused to read the statutory phrase “person entitled to compensation” in §933(g) to mean “person awarded compensation,” Estate of Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co., 505 U. S. 469, 477, the converse must also be true: “awarded compensation” in §906(c) cannot mean “entitled to compensation.” But Cowart’s reasoning does not work in reverse. Cowart did not construe §906(c) or “award,” see id., at 478–479, and it did not hold that the groups of “employees entitled to compensation” and “employees awarded compensation” were mutually exclusive, see id., at 477. Finally, Roberts contends that his interpretation furthers the LHWCA’s purpose of providing employees with prompt compensation by encouraging employers to avoid delay and expedite administrative proceedings. But his remedy would also punish employers who voluntarily pay benefits at the proper rate from the time of their employees’ injuries, because they would owe benefits under the higher cap applicable in any future fiscal year when their employees chose to file claims. The more measured deterrent to employer delay is interest that accrues from the date an unpaid benefit came due. Pp. 13–


   
 
(Slip Opinion)  OCTOBER TERM, 2011  1
Syllabus
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Syllabus
ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC., ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 10–1399. Argued January 11, 2012—Decided March 20, 2012
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) creates a comprehensive scheme to pay compensation for an eligible employee’s disability or death resulting from injury occurring upon the
navigable waters of the United States.  Benefits for most types of disabilities are capped at twice the national average weekly wage for the
fiscal year in which an injured employee is “newly awarded compensation.”  33 U. S. C. §906(c).  The LHWCA requires employers to pay
benefits voluntarily, without formal administrative proceedings.
Typically, employers pay benefits without contesting liability, so no
compensation orders are issued.  However,  if an employer controverts liability, or an employee contests his employer’s actions with
respect to his benefits, the dispute proceeds to the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) to be resolved, if possible, through informal procedures.  An informal disposition may result in a compensation order.  If not resolved informally,
the dispute is referred to an administrative law judge (ALJ), who
conducts a hearing and issues a compensation order.
In fiscal year 2002, petitioner Roberts was injured at an Alaska
marine terminal while working for respondent Sea-Land Services,
Inc. Sea-Land (except for six weeks in 2003) voluntarily paid Roberts
benefits until fiscal year 2005.  Roberts then filed an LHWCA claim,
and Sea-Land controverted.  In fiscal year 2007, an ALJ awarded
Roberts benefits at the fiscal year 2002 statutory maximum rate.
Roberts sought reconsideration, contending that the award should
have been set at the higher statutory maximum rate for fiscal year
2007, when, he argued, he was “newly awarded compensation” by order of the ALJ.  The ALJ denied his motion, and the Department of
Labor’s Benefits Review Board affirmed, concluding that the perti-  
2  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Syllabus
nent maximum rate is determined by the date disability commences.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed.
Held: An employee is “newly awarded compensation” when he first becomes disabled and thereby becomes statutorily entitled to benefits,
no matter whether, or when, a compensation order issues on his behalf. Pp. 5−18.
(a) Roberts contends that the statutory term “awarded compensation” means “awarded compensation in a formal order,” while SeaLand and the Director, OWCP, maintain that it means “statutorily
entitled to compensation because of disability.”  Although §906 can be
interpreted either way, only Sea-Land and the Director’s interpretation makes §906 a working part of the statutory scheme.  Under Roberts’ interpretation, no employee  receiving voluntary payments has
been “awarded compensation,” so none is subject to an identifiable
maximum rate of compensation.  That result is incompatible with the
LHWCA’s design.  Section 906(b)(1) caps compensation at twice the
applicable national average weekly wage, as determined by the Secretary of Labor.  Section 906(b)(3), in turn, directs the Secretary to
determine that wage before each fiscal year begins, at which time it
becomes the “applicable national average weekly wage” for the coming fiscal year.  And §906(c), in its turn, provides that the Secretary’s
determination shall apply to those “newly awarded compensation”
during such fiscal year.  Through a series of cross-references, the
three provisions work together to cap disability benefits.  By its
terms, and subject to one express exception, §906(b)(1) specifies that
the cap applies globally, to all disability claims.  Because all three
provisions interlock, the cap functions as Congress intended only if
§906(c) also applies globally, to all such cases.  Roberts’ interpretation would give §906(c) no application in the many cases in which no
formal orders issue.
Using the national average weekly wage for the fiscal year in
which an employee becomes disabled coheres with the LHWCA’s administrative structure.  An employer must be able to calculate the
cap in order to pay benefits within 14 days of notice of an employee’s
disability, see §914(b), and in order to certify to the Department of
Labor whether the maximum rate is being paid.  Similarly, an OWCP
claims examiner must verify the compensation rate in light of the
applicable cap.  It is difficult to see how an employer or claims examiner can use a national average weekly wage other than the one in effect at the time an employee becomes disabled.  Moreover, applying
the national average weekly wage for the fiscal year in which an employee becomes disabled advances the LHWCA’s purpose to compensate disability, defined as “incapacity because of injury to earn the
wages which the employee was receiving at the time of injury.”  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  3
Syllabus
§902(10).  It also avoids disparate treatment of similarly situated
employees; Roberts’ reading would  permit two employees who earn
the same salary and suffer the same  injury  on  the  same  day  to  receive different maximum compensation rates based on the happenstance of their obtaining orders in different fiscal years.  Finally, applying the national average weekly wage for the fiscal year in which
disability commences discourages  gamesmanship in the claims process.  If the fiscal year in which an order issues were to determine the
cap, the fact that the national average wage rises each year with inflation would be unduly significant.  Roberts’ rule would reward employees who receive voluntary payments with windfalls for initiating
unnecessary administrative proceedings to secure a higher rate,
while simultaneously punishing employers who have complied fully
with their statutory obligations to make voluntary payments.  Pp.
5−13.
 (b) Roberts’ counterarguments are  unconvincing.  First, although
the LHWCA sometimes uses “award” to mean “award in a formal order,” the presumption that identical words used in different parts of
the same Act are intended to have the same meaning, readily yields
whenever, as here, the variation  in the word’s use in the LHWCA
reasonably warrants the conclusion that it was employed in different
parts of the Act with different intent.  See General Dynamics Land
Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U. S. 581, 595.
Second, Roberts argues that, because this Court has refused to
read the statutory phrase “person entitled to compensation” in
§933(g) to mean “person awarded compensation,” Estate of Cowart v.
Nicklos Drilling Co., 505 U. S. 469, 477, the converse must also be
true: “awarded compensation” in §906(c) cannot mean “entitled to
compensation.”  But  Cowart’s reasoning does not work in reverse.
Cowart did not construe §906(c) or “award,” see id., at 478–479, and
it did not hold that the groups of “employees entitled to compensation” and “employees awarded compensation” were mutually exclusive, see id., at 477.
Finally, Roberts contends that his interpretation furthers the
LHWCA’s purpose of providing employees with prompt compensation
by encouraging employers to avoid delay and expedite administrative
proceedings. But his remedy would also punish employers who voluntarily pay benefits at the proper  rate from the time of their employees’ injuries, because they would owe benefits under the higher
cap applicable in any future fiscal year when their employees chose to
file claims.  The more measured deterrent to employer delay is interest that accrues from the date an unpaid benefit came due.  Pp. 13–
18.
625 F. 3d 1204, affirmed.  
 
4  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Syllabus
 SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,
C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, BREYER, ALITO, and KAGAN, JJ.,
joined. GINSBURG, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting
in part.  
 
_________________
_________________
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  1
Opinion of the Court
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash­
ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
No. 10–1399
DANA ROBERTS, PETITIONER v. SEA-LAND

SERVICES, INC., ET AL.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

[March 20, 2012]
 JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
(LHWCA or Act), ch. 509, 44 Stat. 1424, as amended, 33
U. S. C. §901  et seq.,  caps benefits for most types of disability at twice the national average weekly wage for the
fiscal year in which an injured employee is “newly award­
ed compensation.” §906(c). We hold that an employee is
“newly awarded compensation” when he first becomes
disabled and thereby becomes statutorily entitled to bene­
fits, no matter whether, or when, a compensation order
issues on his behalf.
I
A
The LHWCA “is a comprehensive scheme to provide
compensation ‘in respect of disability or death of an em­
ployee . . . if the disability or death results from an injury occurring upon the navigable waters of the United
States.’”  Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 515 U. S.
291, 294 (1995) (quoting §903(a)). An employee’s compen­
sation depends on the severity of his disability and his
preinjury pay. A totally disabled employee, for example, is  
 
2  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
entitled to two-thirds of his preinjury average weekly
wage as long as he remains disabled. §§908(a)–(b), 910.
Section 906, however, sets a cap on compensation.1
Disability benefits “shall not exceed” twice “the applicable
national average weekly wage.” §906(b)(1). The national
average weekly wage—“the national average weekly earn­
ings of production or nonsupervisory workers on private
nonagricultural payrolls,” §902(19)—is recalculated by the
Secretary of Labor each fiscal year.  §906(b)(3).  For most
types of disability, the “applicable” national average week­
ly wage is the figure for the fiscal year in which a benefi­
ciary is “newly awarded compensation,” and the cap re­
mains constant as long as benefits continue.  §906(c).2
——————
1
Section 906 provides, in pertinent part:
“(b) Maximum rate of compensation
“(1) Compensation for disability  or death (other than compensation
for death required . . . to be paid in a lump sum) shall not exceed an
amount equal to 200 per centum of the applicable national average
weekly wage, as determined by the Secretary under paragraph (3).
. . . . .
“(3) As soon as practicable after June 30 of each year, and in any
event prior to October 1 of such year, the Secretary shall determine
the national average weekly wage  for the three consecutive calendar
quarters ending June 30.  Such determination shall be the applicable
national average weekly wage for the period beginning with October 1
of that year and ending with September 30 of the next year. . . .
“(c) Applicability of determinations
“Determinations under subsection (b)(3) . . . with respect to a period
shall apply to employees or survivors currently receiving compensation
for permanent total disability or death benefits during such period, as
well as those newly awarded compensation during such period.”
2
For those “currently receiving compensation for permanent total
disability or death benefits,” §906(c), the cap is adjusted each fiscal
year—and typically increases, in step with the usual inflation-driven
rise in the national average weekly wage.  See Dept. of Labor, Division
of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (DLHWC), NAWW
Information, online at  http://www.dol.gov/owcp/dlhwc/NAWWinfo.htm
(all Internet materials as visited Mar. 16, 2012, and available in Clerk
of Court’s case file).  Section 906(c)’s “currently receiving compensation”
clause is not at issue here. Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  3
Opinion of the Court
Consistent with the central bargain of workers’ compen­
sation regimes—limited liability for employers; certain,
prompt recovery for employees—the LHWCA requires that
employers pay benefits voluntarily, without formal admin­
istrative proceedings. Once an employee provides notice of
a disabling injury, his employer must pay compensation
“periodically, promptly, and directly . . . without an award,
except where liability to pay compensation is controvert­
ed.” §914(a).  In general, employers pay benefits without
contesting liability. See Pallas Shipping Agency, Ltd. v.
Duris, 461 U. S. 529, 532 (1983).  In the mine run of cases,
therefore, no compensation orders issue.
If an employer controverts, or if an employee contests
his employer’s actions with respect to his benefits, the
dispute advances to the Department of Labor’s Office of
Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). See 20 CFR
§§702.251–702.262 (2011).  The OWCP district directors
“are empowered to amicably and promptly resolve such
problems by informal procedures.” §702.301. A district
director’s informal disposition may result in a compen-
sation order. §702.315(a).  In practice, however, “many
pending claims are amicably settled through voluntary
payments without the necessity of a formal order.”  Intercounty Constr. Corp. v. Walter, 422 U. S. 1, 4, n. 4 (1975).
If informal resolution fails, the district director refers the
dispute to an administrative law judge (ALJ).  See 20 CFR
§§702.316, 702.331–702.351.  An ALJ’s decision after a
hearing culminates in the entry of a compensation order.
33 U. S. C. §§919(c)–(e).3
——————
3
In fiscal year 1971, only 209 cases out of the 17,784 in which com­
pensation was paid resulted in orders.  Hearings on S. 2318 et al. before
the Subcommittee on Labor of the  Senate Committee on Labor and
Public Welfare, 92d Cong., 2d Sess., 757–758 (1972).  Congress enacted
§906’s predecessor provision, which included the “newly awarded
compensation” clause, in 1972.  Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’
Compensation Act Amendments of 1972, §5, 86 Stat. 1253.  
 
 
4  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
B
In fiscal year 2002, petitioner Dana Roberts slipped and
fell on a patch of ice while employed at respondent SeaLand Services’ marine terminal in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Roberts injured his neck and shoulder and did not return
to work.  On receiving notice of his disability, Sea-Land
(except for a six-week period in 2003) voluntarily paid
Roberts benefits absent a compensation order until fiscal
year 2005.  When Sea-Land discontinued voluntary pay­
ments, Roberts filed an LHWCA claim, and Sea-Land
controverted.  In fiscal year 2007, after a hearing, an ALJ
awarded Roberts benefits at the statutory maximum rate
of $966.08 per week. This was twice the national average
weekly wage for fiscal year 2002, the fiscal year when
Roberts became disabled.
Roberts moved for reconsideration, arguing that the “ap­
plicable” national average weekly wage was the figure
for fiscal year 2007, the fiscal year when he was “newly
awarded compensation” by the ALJ’s order. The latter
figure would have entitled Roberts to $1,114.44 per week.
The ALJ denied reconsideration, and the Department of
Labor’s Benefits Review Board (or BRB) affirmed, conclud­
ing that “the pertinent maximum rate is determined by
the date the disability commences.”  App. to Pet. for Cert.
20.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed in relevant part, holding
that an employee “is ‘newly awarded compensation’ within
the meaning of [§906(c)] when he first becomes entitled to
compensation.”  Roberts  v.  Director, OWCP,  625 F. 3d
1204, 1208 (2010) (per curiam).  We granted certiorari, 564
U. S. ___ (2011), to resolve a conflict among the Circuits
with respect to the time when a beneficiary is “newly
awarded compensation,” and now affirm.4
——————
4
Compare 625 F. 3d 1204 (time of entitlement), with  Wilkerson  v.
Ingalls Shipbuilding, Inc., 125 F. 3d 904 (CA5 1997) (time of order),
and Boroski v. DynCorp Int’l, 662 F. 3d 1197 (CA11 2011) (same).  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  5
Opinion of the Court
II
Roberts contends that “awarded compensation” means
“awarded compensation in a formal order.”  Sea-Land,
supported by the Director, OWCP, responds that “awarded
compensation” means “statutorily entitled to compensa­
tion because of disability.”  The text of §906(c), standing
alone, admits of either interpretation.  But “our task is to
fit, if possible, all parts into an harmonious whole.”  FTC
v. Mandel Brothers, Inc., 359 U. S. 385, 389 (1959).  Only
the interpretation advanced by Sea-Land and the Director
makes §906 a working part of the statutory scheme; sup­
plies an administrable rule that results in equal treatment
of similarly situated beneficiaries; and avoids gamesman­
ship in the claims process. In light of these contextual
and structural considerations, we hold that an employee
is “newly awarded compensation” when he first becomes
disabled and thereby becomes statutorily entitled to bene­
fits under the Act, no matter whether, or when, a compen­
sation order issues on his behalf.
A
We first consider “whether the language at issue has
a plain and unambiguous meaning with regard to the par-
ticular dispute in the case.”  Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519
U. S. 337, 340 (1997).  The LHWCA does not define
“awarded,” but in construing the Act, as with any statute,
“‘we look first to its language, giving the words used their
ordinary meaning.’”  Ingalls Shipbuilding, Inc. v. Director,
Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, 519 U. S. 248,
255 (1997) (quoting  Moskal v.  United States, 498 U. S.
103, 108 (1990)). At first blush, Roberts’ position is ap­
pealing. In ordinary usage, “award” most often means
“give by judicial decree” or “assign after careful judgment.”
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 152 (2002);
see also,  e.g.,  Black’s Law Dictionary 157 (9th ed. 2009)
(“grant by formal process or by judicial decree”).  
6  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
But “award” can also mean “grant,” or “confer or bestow
upon.” Webster’s Third New  International Dictionary, at
152; see also ibid. (1971 ed.) (same). The LHWCA “grants”
benefits to disabled employees, and so can be said to
“award” compensation by force of its entitlement-creating
provisions. Indeed, this Court has often said that statutes
“award” entitlements.  See, e.g., Astrue v. Ratliff, 560 U. S.
___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 4) (referring to “statutes that
award attorney’s fees to a prevailing party”);  Barber  v.
Thomas, 560 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (appendix to majority
opinion) (slip op., at 19) (statute “awards” good-time cred­
its to federal prisoners);  New Energy Co. of Ind. v.
Limbach, 486 U. S. 269, 271 (1988) (Ohio statute “awards
a tax credit”);  Pacific Employers Ins. Co. v.  Industrial
Accident Comm’n, 306 U. S. 493, 500 (1939) (California
workers’ compensation statute “award[s] compensation for
injuries to an employee”); see also,  e.g., Connecticut v.
Doehr, 501 U. S. 1, 28 (1991) (Rehnquist, C. J., concurring
in part and concurring in judgment) (“Materialman’s and
mechanic’s lien statutes award an interest in real property
to workers”).  Similarly, this Court has described an em­
ployee’s survivors as “having been ‘newly awarded’ death
benefits” by virtue of the employee’s death, without any
reference to a formal order.   Director, Office of Workers’
Compensation Programs v.  Rasmussen, 440 U. S. 29, 44,
n. 16 (1979) (quoting §906(c)’s predecessor provision, 33
U. S. C. §906(d) (1976 ed.)).
In short, the text of §906(c), in isolation, is indetermi­
nate.
B
Statutory language, however, “cannot be construed in a
vacuum. It is a fundamental canon of statutory construc­
tion that the words of a statute must be read in their
context and with a view to their place in the overall statu­
tory scheme.”   Davis v. Michigan Dept. of Treasury, 489  
 
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  7
Opinion of the Court
U. S. 803, 809 (1989).  In the context of the LHWCA’s
comprehensive, reticulated regime for worker benefits—in
which §906 plays a pivotal role—“awarded compensation”
is much more sensibly interpreted to mean “statutorily
entitled to compensation because of disability.”5
1
Section 906 governs compensation in all LHWCA cases.
As explained above, see supra, at 3, the LHWCA requires
employers to pay benefits voluntarily, and in the vast
majority of cases, that is just what occurs.  Under Roberts’
——————
5
JUSTICE  GINSBURG’s view, not advanced by any party, is that an
employee is “awarded compensation” when his employer “voluntarily
pays compensation or is officially ordered to do so.”  Post, at 3 (opinion
concurring in part and dissenting in part).  But reading “awarded
compensation” as synonymous with “receiving compensation” is farther
from the ordinary meaning of “award” than the Court’s approach: A
person who slipped and fell on a  negligently maintained sidewalk
would not say that she had been “awarded money damages” if the
business responsible for the sidewalk voluntarily paid her hospital bills.
Cf. post, at 3–4.
Moreover, if Congress had intended “awarded compensation” to mean
“receiving compensation,” it could  have said so—as, in fact, it did
in §906(c)’s parallel clause, which pertains to beneficiaries “currently
receiving compensation for permanent total disability or death.”  See
nn. 1–2, supra. JUSTICE GINSBURG’s reading denies effect to Congress’
textual shift, and therefore “runs afoul of the usual rule that ‘when the
legislature uses certain language in one part of the statute and differ­
ent language in another, the court assumes different meanings were
intended.’ ”  Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U. S. 692, 711, n. 9 (2004).
Nor is JUSTICE GINSBURG’s reliance on a single sentence of legislative
history persuasive.  See post, at 4–5. True, a Senate committee report
described those “newly awarded compensation” as those “who begin
receiving compensation.”  S. Rep. No. 92–1125, p. 18 (1972).  But a
subsequent House committee report did not.  Cf. H. R. Rep. No. 92–
1441, p. 15 (1972) (statute provides a “method for determining maxi­
mum and minimum compensation (to be applicable to persons currently
receiving compensation as well as those newly awarded compensa­
tion)”). The legislative materials are a push.  
 
 
8  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
interpretation of §906(c), no employee receiving voluntary
payments has been “awarded compensation,” so none is
subject to an identifiable maximum rate of compensation.
That result is incompatible with the Act’s design.  Sec-
tion 906(b)(1) caps “[c]ompensation for disability or death
(other than compensation for death required . . . to be paid
in a lump sum)” at twice “the applicable national average
weekly wage, as determined by the Secretary under para­
graph (3).” Section 906(b)(3), in turn, directs the Secretary
to “determine” the national average weekly wage before
each fiscal year begins on October 1 and provides that
“[s]uch determination shall be the applicable national
average weekly wage” for the  coming fiscal year.  And
§906(c), in its turn, provides that “[d]eterminations under
subsection (b)(3) . . . with respect to” a fiscal year “shall
apply to . . . those newly awarded compensation during
such” fiscal year. Through a series of cross-references, the
three provisions work together to cap disability benefits.
By its terms, and subject to one express exception,
§906(b)(1) specifies that the cap applies globally, to all
disability claims. But all three provisions interlock, so the
cap functions as Congress intended only if §906(c) also
applies globally, to all such cases. See, e.g., FDA v. Brown
& Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U. S. 120, 133 (2000) (“A
court must . . . interpret the statute ‘as a symmetrical and
coherent regulatory scheme’” (quoting Gustafson v. Alloyd
Co., 513 U. S. 561, 569 (1995))).  If Roberts’ interpretation
were correct, §906(c) would have no application at all in
the many cases in which no formal orders issue, because
employers make voluntary payments or the parties reach
informal settlements.  We will not construe §906(c) in a
manner that renders it “entirely superfluous in all but the
most unusual circumstances.”  TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534
U. S. 19, 29 (2001).
Recognizing this deficiency in his reading of §906(c),
Roberts proposes that orders issue in every case, so that  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  9
Opinion of the Court
employers can lock in the caps in effect at the time their
employees become disabled.  This is a solution in search of
a problem. Under settled LHWCA practice, orders are
rare. Roberts’ interpretation would set needless adminis­
trative machinery in motion and would disrupt the con­
gressionally preferred system of voluntary compensation
and informal dispute resolution. The incongruity of Rob­
erts’ proposal is highlighted by his inability to identify a
vehicle for the entry of an order in an uncontested case.
Section 919(c), on which Roberts relies, applies only if an
employee has filed a claim.  Likewise, 20 CFR §702.315(a)
applies only in the case of a claim or an employer’s no-
tice of controversion. See §702.301.  We doubt that an employee will file a claim for the sole purpose of assisting his
employer in securing a lower cap.  And we will not read
§906(c) to compel an employer to file a baseless notice of
controversion. Cf. 33 U. S. C. §§928(a), (d) (providing for
assessment of attorney’s fees and costs against employers
who controvert unsuccessfully).  Roberts suggests that
employers could threaten to terminate benefits in order to
induce their employees to file claims, and thus initiate the
administrative process. Construing any workers’ compen­
sation regime to encourage gratuitous confrontation be­
tween employers and employees strikes us as unsound.
2
Using the national average weekly wage for the fiscal
year in which an employee becomes disabled coheres with
the LHWCA’s administrative  structure.  Section 914(b)
requires an employer to pay  benefits within 14 days of
notice of an employee’s disability.  To do so, an employer
must be able to calculate the cap. An employer must also
notify the Department of Labor of voluntary payments by
filing a form that indicates, inter alia, whether the “maxi­
mum rate is being paid.” Dept. of Labor, Form LS–206,
Payment of Compensation Without Award (2011), online  
10 ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
at http://www.dol.gov/owcp/dlhwc/ls-206.pdf. On receipt of
this form, an OWCP claims examiner must verify the
rate of compensation in light of the applicable cap.  See
Dept. of Labor, Longshore (DLHWC) Procedure Manual
§2–201(3)(b)(3) (hereinafter Longshore Procedure Man-
ual), online at http://www.dol.gov/owcp/dlhwc/lspm/lspm2­
201.htm. It is difficult to see how an employer can apply
or certify a national average weekly wage other than the
one in effect at the time an employee becomes disabled.
An employer is powerless to predict when an employee
might file a claim, when a compensation order might
issue, or what the national average weekly wage will be at
that later time.  Likewise for a claims examiner.6
Moreover, applying the national average weekly wage
for the fiscal year in which an employee becomes disabled
advances the LHWCA’s purpose to compensate disability,
defined as “incapacity because of injury to earn the wages
which the employee was receiving  at  the  time  of  injury.”
33 U. S. C. §902(10) (emphasis added).  Just as the
LHWCA takes “the average weekly wage of the injured
employee at the time of the injury” as the “basis upon
——————
6
JUSTICE  GINSBURG’s approach is either easily circumvented or un­
workable. For example, JUSTICE GINSBURG determines that Roberts is
entitled to the fiscal year 2002 maximum rate from March 11, 2002, to
July 15, 2003, because Sea-Land was making voluntary payments
during that time.   Post,  at 6. But Sea-Land was paying Roberts
$933.82 per week, less than the $966.08 that the ALJ found Roberts
was entitled to receive.  Compare App. to Pet. for Cert. 101 with id., at
107, Order ¶1.  If any voluntary payment suffices, regardless of an
employee’s actual entitlement, then an employer can hedge against a
later finding of liability by paying the smallest amount to which the Act
might entitle an employee but controverting liability as to the remain­
der. See, e.g., R. M. v. Sabre Personnel Assocs., Inc., 41 BRBS 727, 730
(2007).  An employer who controverts is not subject to the Act’s delin­
quency penalty.  See 33 U. S. C. §914(e).  Perhaps JUSTICE  GINSBURG
gives Sea-Land the benefit of the doubt because its voluntary payments
were close to Roberts’ actual entitlement.  But if that is so, then how
close is close enough?  
 
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  11
Opinion of the Court
which to compute compensation,” §910, it is logical to
apply the national average weekly wage for the same point
in time. Administrative practice has long treated the
time of injury as the relevant date.  See,  e.g., Dept. of
Labor, Pamphlet LS–560, Workers’ Compensation Under
the Longshoremen’s Act (rev. Dec. 2003) (“Compensation
payable under the Act may not exceed 200% of the nation­
al average weekly wage, applicable at the time of injury”),
online at  http://www.dol.gov/owcp/dlhwc/LS-560pam.htm;
Dept. of Labor, Workers’ Compensation Under the Long­
shoremen’s Act, Pamphlet LS–560 (rev. Nov. 1979) (same);
see also, e.g., Dept. of Labor, LHWCA Bulletin No. 11–01,
p. 2 (2010) (national average weekly wage for particular
fiscal year applies to “disability incurred during” that
fiscal year).7
Applying the national average weekly wage at the time
of onset of disability avoids disparate treatment of similarly situated employees. Under Roberts’ reading, two em-
ployees who earn the same salary and suffer the same
injury on the same day could be entitled to different rates
——————
7
Roberts accurately notes that in some cases, the time of injury and
the time of onset of disability differ.  We have observed that “the
LHWCA does not compensate physical injury alone but the disability
produced by that injury.”  Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v.  Rambo, 515
U. S. 291, 297 (1995).  From that principle, lower courts have rightly
concluded that when dates of injury and onset of disability diverge, the
latter is the relevant date for determining the applicable national
average weekly wage.  See, e.g., Service Employees International, Inc. v.
Director, OWCP, 595 F. 3d 447, 456 (CA2 2010); Kubin v. Pro-Football,
Inc., 29 BRBS 117 (1995) (per curiam).
Likewise, in a small group of cases—those in which disability lasts
more than 3 but less than 15 days—the time of onset of disability and
the time of entitlement will differ.  See §906(a) (“No compensation shall
be allowed for the first three days of the disability . . . Provided, however, That in case the injury results in disability of more than fourteen
days the compensation shall be allowed from the date of the disability”).
In these cases, the relevant date is that on which disability and enti­
tlement coincide: the fourth day after the onset of disability.  
12 ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
of compensation based on the happenstance of their ob­
taining orders in different fiscal years.  We can imagine no
reason why Congress would have intended, by choosing
the words “newly awarded compensation,” to differentiate
between employees based on such an arbitrary criterion.
3
Finally, using the national average weekly wage for the
fiscal year in which disability commences discourages
gamesmanship in the claims process. If the fiscal year in
which an order issues were to determine the cap, the fact
that the national average weekly wage typically rises
every year with inflation, see n. 2,  supra, would become
unduly significant. Every employee affected by the cap
would seek the entry of a compensation order in a later
fiscal year. Even an employee who has been receiving
compensation at the proper rate for years would be well
advised to file a claim for greater benefits in order to
obtain an order at a later time. Likewise, an employee
might delay the adjudicatory process to defer the entry of
an order. And even in an adjudicated case where an em­
ployer is found to have paid benefits at the proper rate, an
ALJ would adopt the later fiscal year’s national average
weekly wage, making the increased cap retroactively
applicable to all of the employer’s payments.  Roberts
candidly acknowledges that his position gives rise to such
perverse incentives. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 58–59.  We de­
cline to adopt a rule that would reward employees with
windfalls for initiating unnecessary administrative pro­
ceedings, while simultaneously punishing employers who
have complied fully with their statutory obligations.
III

We find Roberts’ counterarguments unconvincing.
A
First, Roberts observes that some provisions of the  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  13
Opinion of the Court
LHWCA clearly use “award” to mean “award in a formal
order,” and contends that the same must be true of
“awarded compensation” in §906(c). We agree that the Act
sometimes uses “award” as Roberts urges.  Section 914(a),
for example, refers to the payment of compensation “to the
person entitled thereto, without an award,” foreclosing the
equation of “entitlement” and “award” that we adopt with
respect to §906(c) today.8
  But the presumption that “iden­
tical words used in different parts of the same act are
intended to have the same meaning . . . readily yields
whenever there is such variation in the connection in
which the words are used as reasonably to warrant the
conclusion that they were employed in different parts of
the act with different intent.”   General Dynamics Land
Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U. S. 581, 595 (2004) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted); see also,  e.g.,
United States v. Cleveland Indians Baseball Co., 532 U. S.
200, 213 (2001). Here, we find the presumption overcome
because several provisions of the Act would make no sense
if “award” were read as Roberts proposes.  Those provi­
sions confirm today’s holding because they too, in context,
use “award” to denote a statutory entitlement to compen­
sation because of disability.
For example, §908(c)(20) provides that “[p]roper and
equitable compensation not to exceed $7,500 shall be
awarded for serious disfigurement.”  Roberts argues that
§908(c)(20) “necessarily contemplates administrative
action to fix the amount of the liability and direct its
——————
8
Other LHWCA provisions, read in context, also use award to mean
“award in a formal order.”  For example, §§913(a) and 928(b), like
§914(a), refer to the payment of compensation “without an award.”  And
the LHWCA distinguishes between voluntary payments and those due
under an order for purposes of  punishing employer delinquency.
Compare §914(e) (10 percent penalty for late payment of “compensation
payable without an award”) with §914(f) (20 percent penalty for late
payment of “compensation, payable under the terms of an award”).  
 
14 ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
payment.” Reply Brief for Petitioner 11.  In Roberts’ view,
no disfigured employee may receive benefits without in-
voking the administrative claims process.  That argument, however, runs counter to §908’s preface, which
directs that “[c]ompensation for disability shall be paid to
the employee,” and to §914(a), which requires the payment
of compensation “without an award.”  It is also belied by
employers’ practice of paying §908(c)(20) benefits volun­
tarily. See,  e.g., Williams-McDowell  v.  Newport News
Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., No. 99–0627 etc., 2000 WL
35928576, *1 (BRB, Mar. 15, 2000) (per curiam); Evans v.
Bergeron Barges, Inc., No. 98–1641, 1999 WL 35135283,
*1 (BRB, Sept. 3, 1999)  (per curiam).  In light of the
LHWCA’s interest in prompt payment and settled prac­
tice, “awarded” in §908(c)(20) can only be better read, as in
§906(c), to refer to a disfigured employee’s entitlement to
benefits.
Likewise, §908(d)(1) provides that if an employee who is
receiving compensation for a scheduled disability9
 dies
before receiving the full amount of compensation to which
the schedule entitles him, “the total amount of the award
unpaid at the time of death shall be payable to or for the
benefit of his survivors.”  See also §908(d)(2).  Roberts’
interpretation of “award”  would introduce an odd gap:
Only survivors of those employees who were receiving
schedule benefits pursuant to orders—not survivors of
employees who were receiving voluntary payments—
would be entitled to the unpaid balances due their dece­
dents. There is no reason why Congress would have cho­
——————
9
Sections 908(c)(1) to (20) set forth a “schedule” of particular injuries
that entitle an employee “to receive two-thirds of his average weekly
wages for a specific number of weeks, regardless of whether his earning
capacity has actually been impaired.”   Potomac Elec. Power Co. v.
Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, 449 U. S. 268, 269
(1980). For example, an employee who loses an arm is entitled to two­
thirds of his average weekly wage for 312 weeks.  §908(c)(1). Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  15
Opinion of the Court
sen to distinguish between survivors in this manner.  And
the Benefits Review Board has quite sensibly interpreted
§908(d) to mean that “an employee has a vested interest in
benefits which accrue during his lifetime, and, after he
dies, his estate is entitled to those benefits, regardless of
when an award is made.”  Wood v.  Ingalls Shipbuilding,
Inc., 28 BRBS 27, 36 (1994) (per curiam).10
Finally, §933(b) provides: “For the purpose of this sub­
section, the term ‘award’ with respect to a compensation
order means a formal order issued by the deputy commis­
sioner, an administrative law judge, or Board.”  Unless
award may mean something other than “award in a com­
——————
10
Roberts’ interpretation also would afford unwarranted significance
to the entry of an order in other circumstances, resulting in arbi-
trary distinctions within other classes of beneficiaries.  For example,
§908(c)(22) provides that if an employee suffers from more than one
scheduled disability, the “awards” for each “shall run consecutively.”
Under Roberts’ interpretation, §908(c)(22) would require consecutive
payments only for employees who were receiving scheduled disability
benefits pursuant to orders; those receiving voluntary payments pre­
sumably would be entitled to concurrent payments.  See §§914(a)–(b).
That result would conflict with §908(c)(22)’s text, which states that
consecutive payments must be made “[i]n any case” involving multiple
scheduled disabilities.  See,  e.g.,  Thornton  v.  Northrop Grumman
Shipbuilding, Inc., 44 BRBS 111 (2010) (per curiam).
Similarly, §910(h)(1) sets out two  formulas for increasing benefits
for pre-1972 disability or death in light of the higher rates Congress
provided in the 1972 LHWCA amendments.  The first applies to those
receiving compensation at the  then-applicable maximum rate; the
second applies to those “awarded compensation . . . at less than the
maximum rate.”  See Dept. of Labor, OWCP Bulletin No. 10–73, Ad­
justment of Compensation for Total Permanent Disability or Death
Prior to LS/HW Amendments of 1972, pp. 2–4 (1973).  Roberts’ inter­
pretation would make the second formula applicable only to beneficiar­
ies receiving less than the maximum rate pursuant to orders, not to all
such  beneficiaries.    Again,  there  is  no  reason  to  believe  that  Congress
intended this distinction, nor has OWCP applied it. See ibid. (prescrib­
ing a “uniform” method for computing the increase in all “[c]ases being
compensated at less than the maximum rate,” with no reference to the
existence of an order).  
16 ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
pensation order,” this specific definition would be unnec­
essary. Roberts contends that this provision, enacted in
1984, “was indeed ‘unnecessary’” in light of Pallas Shipping. Brief for Petitioner 29; see 461 U. S., at 534 (“The
term ‘compensation order’ in the LHWCA refers specifi­
cally to an administrative award of compensation following
proceedings with respect to the claim”).  Roberts’ argu­
ment offends the canon against superfluity and neglects
that §933(b) defines the term “award,” whereas  Pallas
Shipping defines the term “compensation order.”  Moreo­
ver, Congress’ definition of “award,” which tracks Roberts’
preferred interpretation, was carefully limited to §933(b).
Had Congress intended to adopt a universal definition of
“award,” it could have done so in §902, the LHWCA’s
glossary. Read in light of the “duty to give effect, if possi­
ble, to every clause and word of a statute,”  Duncan v.
Walker, 533 U. S. 167, 174 (2001) (internal quotation
marks omitted), §933(b) debunks Roberts’ argument that
the Act always uses “award” to mean “award in a formal
order” and confirms that “award” has other meanings.
B
Next, Roberts notes that this Court has refused to read
the statutory phrase “person entitled to compensation” in
§933(g) to mean “person awarded compensation.”  See
Estate of Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co., 505 U. S. 469, 477
(1992) (“[A] person entitled to compensation need not be
receiving compensation or have had an adjudication in his
favor”). In Roberts’ view, the converse must also be true:
“awarded compensation” in §906(c) cannot mean “entitled
to compensation.” But Cowart’s reasoning does not work
in reverse.  Cowart  did not construe §906(c) or the term
“award,” but relied on the uniform meaning of the phrase
“person entitled to compensation” in the LHWCA.  See id.,
at 478–479. As just explained, the LHWCA contains no
uniform meaning of the term “award.” Moreover, Cowart  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  17
Opinion of the Court
did not hold that the groups of “employees entitled to
compensation” and “employees awarded compensation”
were mutually exclusive. The former group includes the
latter: The entry of a compensation order is a sufficient
but not necessary condition for membership in the former.
See id., at 477.
C
Finally, Roberts contends that his interpretation fur­
thers the LHWCA’s purpose of providing employees with
prompt compensation by encouraging employers to avoid
delay and expedite administrative proceedings.  But Rob­
erts’ remedy would also punish employers who voluntarily
pay benefits at the proper rate from the time of their
employees’ injuries. These employers would owe benefits
under the higher cap applicable in any future fiscal year
when their employees chose to file claims.  And Roberts’
remedy would offer no relief at all to the many beneficiar­
ies entitled to less than the statutory maximum rate.
The more measured deterrent to employer tardiness is
interest that “accrues from the date a benefit came due,
rather than from the date of the ALJ’s award.”  Matulic v.
Director, OWCP, 154 F. 3d 1052, 1059 (CA9 1998).  The
Director has long taken the position that “interest is a
necessary and inherent component of ‘compensation’
because it ensures that the delay in payment of compensa­
tion does not diminish the amount of compensation to
which the employee is entitled.”   Sproull  v.  Director,
OWCP, 86 F. 3d 895, 900 (CA9 1996); see also, e.g., Strachan Shipping Co.  v.  Wedemeyer, 452 F. 2d 1225, 1229
(CA5 1971). Moreover, “[t]imely controversion does not
relieve the responsible party from paying interest on
unpaid compensation.”  Longshore Procedure Manual §8­
201, online at  http://www.dol.gov/owcp/dlhwc/lspm/lspm8­
201.htm. Indeed, the ALJ awarded Roberts interest “on
each unpaid installment of compensation from the date
the compensation became due.”  App. to Pet. for Cert. 108,  
 
 
18 ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
Order ¶5.11
* * *
We hold that an employee is “newly awarded compensa­
tion” when he first becomes disabled and thereby becomes
statutorily entitled to benefits, no matter whether, or
when, a compensation order issues on his behalf.12
    The
judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is
affirmed.
It is so ordered.
——————
11
Thus, as under JUSTICE  GINSBURG’s approach, an employer who
controverts still “runs the risk” of greater liability if an ALJ awards an
employee compensation at some point subsequent to the onset of
disability.  See post, at 5.
12
Because “newly awarded compensation,” read in context, is unam­
biguous, we do not reach respondents’ argument that the Director’s
interpretation of §906(c) is entitled to deference under Chevron U. S. A.
Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837 (1984). _________________
_________________
 
 
 
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  1
Opinion of GINSBURG, J.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
No. 10–1399
DANA ROBERTS, PETITIONER v. SEA-LAND

SERVICES, INC., ET AL.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

[March 20, 2012]
 JUSTICE GINSBURG, concurring in part and dissenting in
part.
Section 906 of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’
Compensation Act (LHWCA or the Act) defines the maximum disability benefit an injured worker may receive
under the Act. Specifically,  §906 states that an injured
employee may receive, at most, twice the national average
weekly wage for the fiscal year in which the employee
is “newly awarded compensation.”  33 U. S. C. §906(c).
The Court granted review in this case to answer the
following question: When is an employee “newly awarded
compensation”?
Petitioner Dana Roberts contends that an employee is
“newly awarded compensation” in the year she receives
a formal compensation award. For the reasons cogently
explained by the majority, that argument is untenable.
See  ante,  at 5–17.  Unlike the Court, however, I do not
regard as reasonable respondent Sea-Land Services’ view
that an employee is “newly awarded compensation” in the
year she becomes “statutorily entitled to compensation.”
Ante, at 5–6.  Applying the common meaning of the verb
“award” and recognizing the Act’s distinction between
benefits paid voluntarily, and those paid pursuant to a
compensation order, see ante, at 2–3, I would hold that an
injured worker is “newly awarded compensation” when (1)  
 
2  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of GINSBURG, J.
the employer voluntarily undertakes to pay benefits to
the employee, or (2) an administrative law judge (ALJ), the
Benefits Review Board (BRB), or a reviewing court orders
the employer to pay such benefits.
I
In determining the meaning of a statutory phrase, “we
look first to its language, giving the words used their
ordinary meaning.”  Moskal v.  United States, 498 U. S.
103, 108 (1990) (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). As the Court acknowledges, ante, at 5, the verb
“award” ordinarily means “to give by judicial decree” or
“[to] assign after careful judgment.”  Webster’s Third New
International Dictionary 152 (2002). See also Black’s Law
Dictionary 157 (9th ed. 2009) (defining the verb “award”
as “[t]o grant by formal process or by judicial decree”).
Giving “award” this usual meaning, an employee is “newly
awarded compensation,” if not voluntarily paid, in the fiscal year in which payment is directed by administrative
order or judicial decree.
Under the LHWCA, the Court recognizes, an employee
is provided compensation voluntarily or in contested proceedings. See  ante, at 3. Most commonly, an employer
pays compensation voluntarily after receiving an employee’s notice of disabling injury. See Pallas Shipping Agency, Ltd. v.  Duris, 461 U. S. 529, 532 (1983); 33 U. S. C.
§912 (describing the form, content, and timing of the
necessary notice and requiring employers to designate a
representative to receive the notice); §914(b).  If an employer declines to pay compensation voluntarily, an injured employee can file a claim with the Department of
Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
(OWCP). For employees with valid claims, OWCP proceedings culminate with an administrative or court decision ordering the employer to pay benefits.  §919(c). Thus,
an injured worker is given—or “awarded”—compensation Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  3
Opinion of GINSBURG, J.
through one of two means contemplated by the Act: either
the employer voluntarily pays compensation or is officially
ordered to do so. Logically, then, the worker is “newly
awarded compensation” when one of those two events
occurs.
The Court does not take this approach. After acknowledging that it is not relying on the typical meaning of the
word “award,” see ante, at 5, the Court adopts Sea-Land’s
view that “awarded compensation” is synonymous with
“[became] statutorily entitled to benefits,” ante, at 18. As
a result, a person is “newly awarded compensation” in the
year in which she becomes entitled to benefits—i.e., in the
year the employee “first becomes disabled.”  Ibid. Such a
reading is plausible, the Court asserts, because “this Court
has often said that statutes ‘award’ entitlements.”   Ante,
at 6 (citing cases).
I do not dispute that statutes are often characterized as
“awarding” relief to persons falling within their compass.
But “a statute must be read in [its] context.”   Ante, at 7
(quoting  Davis v.  Michigan Dept. of Treasury, 489 U. S.
803, 809 (1989)).  Section 906 does not address  whether
the LHWCA, as a general matter, “awards” disability ben-
efits to injured longshore workers.  Rather, it concerns
a more specific question: when has a particular employee
been “newly awarded compensation.”  In that context,
equating “awarded compensation” with “statutorily entitled to compensation” is not plausible.  A person covered
by the Act would not likely say he was “awarded com-
pensation” the moment he became disabled, if, in fact, his
employer contests liability. Only after some entity—the
employer, an ALJ, the BRB, or a reviewing court—
recognizes the employee’s right to compensation would he
comprehend that he had been “awarded compensation.”
To borrow THE  CHIEF  JUSTICE’s example: No person who
slips and injures herself on a negligently maintained
sidewalk would tell her friends the next day, “Guess what,  
4  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of GINSBURG, J.
I was newly awarded money damages yesterday.”  See Tr.
of Oral Arg. 28.
The inconsistency between the Court’s interpretation of
“newly awarded compensation” and my reading of the
phrase is best illustrated by contextual example.  Assume
an employee is injured in 2002 and the employer refuses
to pay compensation voluntarily.  Then, five years later,
an ALJ finds in favor of the employee and orders the
employer to pay benefits to the employee. Under the
Court’s view, the employee was “newly awarded compensation” in 2002, even though the employee did not receive
a penny—and the employer was not obligated to pay a
penny—until 2007.  Only the most strained interpretation
of “newly awarded” could demand that result.1
The Court’s view, moreover, does not fit the Act’s design.
As explained  supra,  at 2–3, the Act envisions that an
eligible employee will begin receiving benefits in either
of two ways. The Court’s interpretation disregards this
design, assuming instead that all employees are awarded
benefits in the same way: by the Act at the time they
become disabled.
Section 906(c)’s legislative history further confirms that
Congress intended “newly awarded compensation” to have
its commonsense meaning.  In describing §906, the Senate
Committee on Labor and Public Welfare reported:
——————
1
As the Court notes, the maximum rate for a given fiscal year applies
to two groups of injured workers: those who are “newly awarded compensation during such [year],” and those who are “currently receiving
compensation for permanent total disability or death benefits during
such [year].”  33 U. S. C. §906(c).   Ante, at 7, n. 5.  Contrary to the
Court’s charge, I do not read “newly awarded compensation” as synonymous with “currently receiving compensation.”  See ibid. An injured
worker who is “currently receiving compensation” in a given fiscal year
was “newly awarded compensation” in a previous year.  My interpretation therefore gives “effect to Congress’ textual shift,” ibid.: It identifies
two distinct groups of workers who are entitled to a given year’s maximum rate.  
 
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  5
Opinion of GINSBURG, J.
“[Section 906(c)] states that determinations of national average weekly wage made with respect to a [fiscal
year] apply to employees or survivors currently receiving compensation for permanent total disability or
death benefits, as well as those  who begin receiving
compensation for the first time during the [fiscal
year].” S. Rep. No. 92–1125, p. 18 (1972) (emphasis
added).
Congress therefore believed an injured worker is “newly
awarded compensation” in the year in which she “begin[s]
receiving compensation for the first time.”   Ibid.  Again,
an employee begins receiving compensation either when an
employer voluntarily agrees to pay the employee benefits
or when an ALJ, the BRB, or a court orders the employer
to  do  so.    See  supra, at 2–3. When the employer resists
payment, the employee will not necessarily begin receiving
compensation in the year in which she becomes disabled.
Finally, interpreting “newly awarded compensation” to
mean awarded through an employer’s voluntary decision
or an official order is consistent with the Act’s goal of
encouraging employers to pay legitimate claims promptly.
See 33 U. S. C. §914(a) (requiring employers to pay compensation “periodically, promptly, and directly”); Estate of
Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co., 505 U. S. 469, 498 (1992)
(Blackmun, J., dissenting) (“[T]he Act presumes that em-
ployers, as a rule, will promptly recognize their LHWCA
obligations and commence payments immediately.”).
Under my interpretation, an employer who chooses to
contest a valid claim, rather than to pay the claim
voluntarily, runs the risk that it may ultimately have to
pay the injured employee a higher maximum benefit.  For
example, if an employer refuses to pay benefits to a worker injured in 2012, and an ALJ issues an order awarding
compensation to the employee in 2015, the fiscal year 2015
maximum rate would apply to the employee’s claim.  Had  
 
 
6  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of GINSBURG, J.
the employer voluntarily begun paying benefits in 2012,
on the other hand, the 2012 maximum rate would apply.
Under the Court’s reading, by contrast, an employer pays
the prevailing rate for the year the employee became
disabled, regardless of whether the employer in fact pays
benefits immediately or years down the road.2
II
In this case, Roberts was injured on February 24, 2002
and stopped working two weeks later.  App. to Pet. for
Cert. 4.  Sea-Land and its insurer paid benefits to Roberts
from March 11, 2002 until July 15, 2003.  Id., at 101. SeaLand then resumed paying benefits on September 1, 2003
and continued to pay Roberts compensation until May 17,
2005, when it ceased making payments for good.   Ibid.
After Roberts filed a complaint with the OWCP, an ALJ,
in October 2006, concluded that Roberts was entitled to
compensation from March 11, 2002 onwards.  Id., at 107–
108.
Applying my interpretation of §906, Roberts was newly
awarded compensation three times: in March 2002 when
Sea-Land voluntarily began paying benefits; in September
2003 when Sea-Land resumed making payments after it
had stopped in July 2003; and in October 2006 when an
ALJ ordered Sea-Land to pay  benefits to Roberts for the
uncompensated weeks in 2003 and from May 2005 onwards.  Roberts was therefore entitled to the fiscal year
2002 maximum rate from March 11, 2002 until July 15,
2003; the fiscal year 2003 maximum rate from September
1, 2003 until May 17, 2005; and the fiscal year 2007 rate3
——————
2
Employers may have a particularly strong financial incentive to
postpone paying claims that implicate §906.  That section applies only
to injured workers who qualify for the maximum rate of compensation
under the Act—i.e., to those claimants who are owed the largest possible benefit.
3
For §906 purposes, a year runs from October 1 to September 30.  See  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  7
Opinion of GINSBURG, J.
going forward and for all uncompensated weeks covered by
the ALJ’s order.4
* * *
For the foregoing reasons, I would reverse the Ninth
Circuit’s judgment and hold that an employee is “newly
awarded compensation” when her employer either volun-
——————
33 U. S. C. §906(b)(3).  The 2007 maximum rate therefore applies to all
employees “newly awarded compensation” between October 1, 2006 and
September 30, 2007.
4
The Court asserts that an employer could “easily circumven[t]” my
approach by making voluntary payments to an injured worker that are
substantially below the employee’s “actual entitlement.”  Ante,  at  10,
n. 6. The prospect that an employer could successfully execute, or
would even attempt, such a strategy is imaginary.  Employers who
make voluntary payments to employees  are required to file a report
with the Department of Labor describing the nature of the employee’s
injury and stating the amount of the payments made.  See ante, at 9–
10; 33 U. S. C. §930(a).  The employer must also submit the results of
a medical evaluation of the employee’s condition.  Dept. of Labor,
Longshore (DLHWC) Procedure Manual §2–201(2)(b) (hereinafter Long-
shore Procedure Manual), online at http://www.dol.gov/owcp/dlhwc/
lspm/lspm2-201.htm (as visited Mar. 14, 2012, and in Clerk of Court’s
case file).  Upon receiving the employer’s report, a DOL claims examiner verifies “the compensation rate for accuracy” and must follow-
up with the employer “[i]f the compensation rate appears low.”  Longshore Procedure Manual §2–201(3)(b)(1).  The chances are slim that a
claims examiner would validate a substantial underpayment.  Employers who underpay benefits, moreover, are subject to a penalty equal to
10% of the amount of the underpayment.  See 33 U. S. C. §914(e);
Longshore Procedure Manual §8–202(3)(c) (“If partial payments are
made by the employer, the [10% penalty] appl[ies] . . . to the difference
between the amount owed and the amount paid.”).  Employers would
thus risk paying more, not less, were they to attempt to “circumven[t]”
my approach by deliberately undercompensating injured workers.  And
while it is true that an employer who controverts an employee’s right to
compensation does not have to pay the 10% penalty, see  ante, at 10,
n. 6, the Act does not permit an employer to pay any amount it likes
and controvert the remainder.  See 33 U. S. C. §914(a) (requiring
employers either to pay benefits in full or to controvert “liability to pay
compensation” at all).  
8  ROBERTS v. SEA-LAND SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of GINSBURG, J.
tarily agrees to pay compensation to her or is officially
ordered to do so.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES Although “laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas” are not patentable subject matter under §101 of the Patent Act, Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U. S. 175, 185, “an application of a law of nature . . . to a known structure or process may [deserve] patent protection,” id., at 187. But to transform an unpatentable law of nature into a patenteligible application of such a law, a patent must do more than simply state the law of nature while adding the words “apply it.” See, e.g., Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U. S. 63, 71–72. It must limit its reach to a particular, inventive application of the law. Respondent, Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. (Prometheus), is the sole and exclusive licensee of the two patents at issue, which concern the use of thiopurine drugs to treat autoimmune diseases. When ingested, the body metabolizes the drugs, producing metabolites in the bloodstream. Because patients metabolize these drugs differently, doctors have found it difficult to determine whether a particular patient’s dose is too high, risking harmful side effects, or too low, and so likely ineffective. The patent claims here set forth processes embodying researchers’ findings that identify correlations between metabolite levels and likely harm or ineffectiveness with precision. Each claim recites (1) an “administering” step—instructing a doctor to administer the drug to his patient—(2) a “determining” step—telling the doctor to measure the resulting metabolite levels in the patient’s blood—and (3) a “wherein” step—describing the metabolite concentrations above which there is a likelihood of harmful side-effects and below which it is likely that the drug dosage is ineffective, and informing the doctor that metabolite concentrations above or below 2 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS LABORATORIES, INC. Syllabus these thresholds “indicate a need” to decrease or increase (respectively) the drug dosage. Petitioners Mayo Collaborative Services and Mayo Clinic Rochester (Mayo) bought and used diagnostic tests based on Prometheus’ patents. But in 2004 Mayo announced that it intended to sell and market its own, somewhat different, diagnostic test. Prometheus sued Mayo contending that Mayo’s test infringed its patents. The District Court found that the test infringed the patents but granted summary judgment to Mayo, reasoning that the processes claimed by the patents effectively claim natural laws or natural phenomena—namely, the correlations between thiopurine metabolite levels and the toxicity and efficacy of thiopurine drugs—and therefore are not patentable. The Federal Circuit reversed, finding the processes to be patent eligible under the Circuit’s “machine or transformation test.” On remand from this Court for reconsideration in light of Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U. S. ___, which clarified that the “machine or transformation test” is not a definitive test of patent eligibility, id., at ___–___, the Federal Circuit reaffirmed its earlier conclusion. Held: Prometheus’ process is not patent eligible. Pp. 8–24. (a) Because the laws of nature recited by Prometheus’ patent claims—the relationships between concentrations of certain metabolites in the blood and the likelihood that a thiopurine drug dosage will prove ineffective or cause harm—are not themselves patentable, the claimed processes are not patentable unless they have additional features that provide practical assurance that the processes are genuine applications of those laws rather than drafting efforts designed to monopolize the correlations. The three additional steps in the claimed processes here are not themselves natural laws but neither are they sufficient to transform the nature of the claims. The “administering” step simply identifies a group of people who will be interested in the correlations, namely, doctors who used thiopurine drugs to treat patients suffering from autoimmune disorders. Doctors had been using these drugs for this purpose long before these patents existed. And a “prohibition against patenting abstract ideas ‘cannot be circumvented by attempting to limit the use of the formula to a particular technological environment.’ ” Bilski, supra, at ___. The “wherein” clauses simply tell a doctor about the relevant natural laws, adding, at most, a suggestion that they should consider the test results when making their treatment decisions. The “determining” step tells a doctor to measure patients’ metabolite levels, through whatever process the doctor wishes to use. Because methods for making such determinations were well known in the art, this step simply tells doctors to engage in well-understood, routine, conventional activity previously engaged in by scientists in the field. Such Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012) 3 Syllabus activity is normally not sufficient to transform an unpatentable law of nature into a patent-eligible application of such a law. Parker v. Flook, 437 U. S. 584, 590. Finally, considering the three steps as an ordered combination adds nothing to the laws of nature that is not already present when the steps are considered separately. Pp. 8–11. (b) A more detailed consideration of the controlling precedents reinforces this conclusion. Pp. 11–19. (1) Diehr and Flook, the cases most directly on point, both addressed processes using mathematical formulas that, like laws of nature, are not themselves patentable. In Diehr, the overall process was patent eligible because of the way the additional steps of the process integrated the equation into the process as a whole. 450 U. S., at 187. These additional steps transformed the process into an inventive application of the formula. But in Flook, the additional steps of the process did not limit the claim to a particular application, and the particular chemical processes at issue were all “well known,” to the point where, putting the formula to the side, there was no “inventive concept” in the claimed application of the formula. 437 U. S., at 594. Here, the claim presents a case for patentability that is weaker than Diehr’s patent-eligible claim and no stronger than Flook’s unpatentable one. The three steps add nothing specific to the laws of nature other than what is well-understood, routine, conventional activity, previously engaged in by those in the field. Pp. 11–13. (2) Further support for the view that simply appending conventional steps, specified at a high level of generality, to laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas cannot make those laws, phenomena, and ideas patentable is provided in O’Reilly v. Morse, 15 How. 62, 114–115; Neilson v. Harford, Webster’s Patent Cases 295, 371; Bilski, supra, at ___–___; and Benson, supra, at 64, 65, 67. Pp. 14–16. (3) This Court has repeatedly emphasized a concern that patent law not inhibit future discovery by improperly tying up the use of laws of nature and the like. See, e.g., Benson, 409 U. S., at 67, 68. Rewarding with patents those who discover laws of nature might encourage their discovery. But because those laws and principles are “the basic tools of scientific and technological work,” id., at 67, there is a danger that granting patents that tie up their use will inhibit future innovation, a danger that becomes acute when a patented process is no more than a general instruction to “apply the natural law,” or otherwise forecloses more future invention than the underlying discovery could reasonably justify. The patent claims at issue implicate this concern. In telling a doctor to measure metabolite levels and to consider the resulting measurements in light of the correlations they describe, they tie up his subsequent treatment decision re-4 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS LABORATORIES, INC. Syllabus gardless of whether he changes his dosage in the light of the inference he draws using the correlations. And they threaten to inhibit the development of more refined treatment recommendations that combine Prometheus’ correlations with later discoveries. This reinforces the conclusion that the processes at issue are not patent eligible, while eliminating any temptation to depart from case law precedent. Pp. 16–19. (c) Additional arguments supporting Prometheus’ position—that the process is patent eligible because it passes the “machine or transformation test”; that, because the particular laws of nature that the claims embody are narrow and specific, the patents should be upheld; that the Court should not invalidate these patents under §101 because the Patent Act’s other validity requirements will screen out overly broad patents; and that a principle of law denying patent coverage here will discourage investment in discoveries of new diagnostic laws of nature—do not lead to a different conclusion. Pp. 19


   (Slip Opinion) OCTOBER TERM, 2011 1 
Syllabus 
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. 
See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337. 
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Syllabus
MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES, DBA MAYO
MEDICAL LABORATORIES, ET AL. v. PROMETHEUS
LABORATORIES, INC.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT
No. 10–1150. Argued December 7, 2011—Decided March 20, 2012
Although “laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas” are
not patentable subject matter under §101 of the Patent Act, Diamond
v. Diehr, 450 U. S. 175, 185, “an application of a law of nature . . . to
a known structure or process may [deserve] patent protection,” id., at
187.  But to transform an unpatentable law of nature into a patenteligible application of such a law, a patent must do more than simply
state the law of nature while adding the words “apply it.”  See, e.g.,
Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U. S. 63, 71–72. It must limit its reach to a
particular, inventive application of the law.
  Respondent, Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. (Prometheus), is the
sole and exclusive licensee of the two patents at issue, which concern
the use of thiopurine drugs to treat autoimmune diseases.  When ingested, the body metabolizes the drugs, producing metabolites in the
bloodstream.  Because patients metabolize these drugs differently,
doctors have found it difficult to determine whether a particular patient’s dose is too high, risking harmful side effects, or too low, and so
likely ineffective. The patent claims here set forth processes embodying researchers’ findings that identify correlations between metabolite levels and likely harm or ineffectiveness with precision.  Each
claim recites (1) an “administering” step—instructing a doctor to administer the drug to his patient—(2) a “determining” step—telling
the doctor to measure the resulting metabolite levels in the patient’s
blood—and (3) a “wherein” step—describing the metabolite concentrations above which there is a likelihood of harmful side-effects and
below which it is likely that the drug dosage is ineffective, and informing the doctor that metabolite concentrations above or below  
 
 
 
2  MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.

Syllabus

these thresholds “indicate a need” to decrease or increase (respectively) the drug dosage.
Petitioners Mayo Collaborative Services and Mayo Clinic Rochester
(Mayo) bought and used diagnostic tests based on Prometheus’ patents.  But in 2004 Mayo announced that it intended to sell and market its own, somewhat different, diagnostic test.  Prometheus sued
Mayo contending that Mayo’s test infringed its patents. The District
Court found that the test infringed the patents but granted summary
judgment to Mayo, reasoning that the processes claimed by the patents effectively claim natural laws or natural phenomena—namely,
the correlations between thiopurine metabolite levels and the toxicity
and efficacy of thiopurine drugs—and therefore are not patentable.
The Federal Circuit reversed, finding the processes to be patent eligible under the Circuit’s “machine or transformation test.”  On remand
from this Court for reconsideration in light of Bilski v. Kappos, 561
U. S. ___, which clarified that the “machine or transformation test” is
not a definitive test of patent eligibility, id., at ___–___, the Federal
Circuit reaffirmed its earlier conclusion.
Held: Prometheus’ process is not patent eligible.  Pp. 8–24.
(a) Because the laws of nature recited by Prometheus’ patent
claims—the relationships between concentrations of certain metabolites in the blood and the likelihood that a thiopurine drug dosage
will prove ineffective or cause harm—are not themselves patentable,
the claimed processes are not patentable unless they have additional
features that provide practical assurance that the processes are genuine applications of those laws rather than drafting efforts designed to
monopolize the correlations.  The  three additional steps in the
claimed processes here are not themselves natural laws but neither
are they sufficient to transform the nature of the claims.  The “administering” step simply identifies a group of people who will be interested in the correlations, namely, doctors who used thiopurine
drugs to treat patients suffering from autoimmune disorders.  Doctors had been using these drugs for this purpose long before these patents existed.  And a “prohibition against patenting abstract ideas
‘cannot be circumvented by attempting to limit the use of the formula
to a particular technological environment.’ ”  Bilski,  supra, at ___.
The “wherein” clauses simply tell a doctor about the relevant natural
laws, adding, at most, a suggestion that they should consider the test
results when making their treatment decisions.  The “determining”
step tells a doctor to measure patients’ metabolite levels, through
whatever process the doctor wishes to use.  Because methods for
making such determinations were  well known in the art, this step
simply tells doctors to engage in well-understood, routine, conventional activity previously engaged in by scientists in the field.  Such  
 
 
 
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  3
Syllabus
activity is normally not sufficient to transform an unpatentable law
of nature into a patent-eligible application of such a law.  Parker v.
Flook, 437 U. S. 584, 590.  Finally, considering the three steps as an
ordered combination adds nothing to the laws of nature that is not
already present when the steps are considered separately.  Pp. 8–11.
(b) A more detailed consideration of the controlling precedents reinforces this conclusion.  Pp. 11–19.
(1) Diehr  and  Flook, the cases most directly on point, both addressed processes using mathematical formulas that, like laws of nature, are not themselves patentable.  In  Diehr, the overall process
was patent eligible because of the way the additional steps of the process integrated the equation into the process as a whole.  450 U. S., at
187.  These additional steps transformed the process into an inventive application of the formula.  But in Flook, the additional steps
of the process did not limit the claim to a particular application, and
the particular chemical processes at issue were all “well known,” to
the point where, putting the formula to the side, there was no “inventive concept” in the claimed application of the formula.  437 U. S.,
at 594.  Here, the claim presents a case for patentability that is
weaker than  Diehr’s patent-eligible claim and no stronger than
Flook’s unpatentable one.  The three steps add nothing specific to the
laws of nature other than what is well-understood, routine, conventional activity, previously engaged in by those in the field.  Pp. 11–13.
(2) Further support for the view that simply appending conventional steps, specified at a high level of generality, to laws of nature,
natural phenomena, and abstract ideas cannot make those laws,
phenomena, and ideas patentable is provided in O’Reilly v. Morse, 15
How. 62, 114–115; Neilson  v. Harford, Webster’s Patent Cases  295,
371;  Bilski, supra, at ___–___; and  Benson,  supra, at 64, 65, 67.
Pp. 14–16.
(3) This Court has repeatedly emphasized a concern that patent
law not inhibit future discovery by improperly tying up the use of
laws of nature and the like. See,  e.g., Benson, 409 U. S., at 67, 68.
Rewarding with patents those who discover laws of nature might encourage their discovery.  But because those laws and principles are
“the basic tools of scientific and technological work,” id., at 67, there
is a danger that granting patents that tie up their use will inhibit future innovation, a danger that becomes acute when a patented process is no more than a general instruction to “apply the natural law,”
or otherwise forecloses more future invention than the underlying
discovery could reasonably justify.  The patent claims at issue implicate this concern. In telling a doctor to measure metabolite levels
and to consider the resulting measurements in light of the correlations they describe, they tie up his subsequent treatment decision re-4  MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.

Syllabus

gardless of whether he changes his dosage in the light of the inference he draws using the correlations.  And they threaten to inhibit
the development of more refined treatment recommendations that
combine Prometheus’ correlations with later discoveries.  This reinforces the conclusion that the processes at issue are not patent eligible, while eliminating any temptation to depart from case law precedent.  Pp. 16–19.
(c) Additional arguments supporting Prometheus’ position—that
the process is patent eligible because it passes the “machine or transformation test”; that, because the particular laws of nature that the
claims embody are narrow and specific, the patents should be upheld;
that the Court should not invalidate these patents under §101 because the Patent Act’s other validity requirements will screen out
overly broad patents; and that a principle of law denying patent coverage here will discourage investment in discoveries of new diagnostic laws of nature—do not lead to a different conclusion. Pp. 19–24.
628 F. 3d 1347, reversed.
BREYER, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.  
 
_________________
_________________
 
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  1
Opinion of the Court
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash­
ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
No. 10–1150
MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES, DBA MAYO
MEDICAL LABORATORIES, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. PROMETHEUS LABORATORIES, INC.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF

APPEALS FOR THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT

[March 20, 2012]
 JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.
Section 101 of the Patent Act defines patentable subject
matter. It says:
“Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful
process, machine, manufacture, or composition of
matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof,
may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions
and requirements of this title.” 35 U. S. C. §101.
The Court has long held that this provision contains an
important implicit exception.  “[L]aws of nature, natural
phenomena, and abstract ideas” are not patentable.  Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U. S. 175, 185 (1981); see also Bilski v.
Kappos, 561 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 5); Diamond
v. Chakrabarty, 447 U. S. 303, 309 (1980); Le Roy v. Tatham, 14 How. 156, 175 (1853); O’Reilly v. Morse, 15 How.
62, 112–120 (1854); cf.  Neilson  v.  Harford, Webster’s
Patent Cases 295, 371 (1841) (English case discussing
same). Thus, the Court has written that “a new mineral
discovered in the earth or a new plant found in the wild is
not patentable subject matter.  Likewise, Einstein could 2  MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.

Opinion of the Court
not patent his celebrated law that E=mc2
; nor could New­
ton have patented the law of gravity. Such discoveries are
‘manifestations of . . . nature, free to all men and reserved
exclusively to none.’”  Chakrabarty, supra, at 309 (quoting
Funk Brothers Seed Co. v.  Kalo Inoculant Co., 333 U. S.
127, 130 (1948)).
“Phenomena of nature, though just discovered, mental
processes, and abstract intellectual concepts are not pa­
tentable, as they are the basic tools of scientific and tech­
nological work.”  Gottschalk v.  Benson, 409 U. S. 63, 67
(1972). And monopolization of those tools through the
grant of a patent might tend to impede innovation more
than it would tend to promote it.
The Court has recognized, however, that too broad an
interpretation of this exclusionary principle could eviscer­
ate patent law.  For all inventions at some level embody,
use, reflect, rest upon, or apply laws of nature, natural
phenomena, or abstract ideas.  Thus, in Diehr the Court
pointed out that “‘a process is not unpatentable simply
because it contains a law of nature or a mathematical
algorithm.’”  450 U. S., at 187 (quoting  Parker v.  Flook,
437 U. S. 584, 590 (1978)).  It added that “an application
of a law of nature or mathematical formula to a known
structure or process may well be deserving of patent pro­
tection.”  Diehr, supra, at 187.  And it emphasized Justice
Stone’s similar observation in Mackay Radio & Telegraph
Co. v. Radio Corp. of America, 306 U. S. 86 (1939):
“‘While a scientific truth, or the mathematical ex­
pression of it, is not a patentable invention, a novel
and useful structure created with the aid of
knowledge of scientific truth may be.’” 450 U. S., at
188 (quoting Mackay Radio, supra, at 94).
See also  Funk Brothers,  supra, at 130 (“If there is to be
invention from [a discovery of a law of nature], it must
come from the application of the law of nature to a new  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  3
Opinion of the Court
and useful end”).
Still, as the Court has also made clear, to transform an
unpatentable law of nature into a patent-eligible application of such a law, one must do more than simply state the
law of nature while adding the words “apply it.”  See, e.g.,
Benson, supra, at 71–72.
The case before us lies at the intersection of these basic
principles.  It concerns patent claims covering processes
that help doctors who use thiopurine drugs to treat pa­
tients with autoimmune diseases determine whether a
given dosage level is too low or too high.  The claims pur­
port to apply natural laws describing the relationships
between the concentration in the blood of certain thiopu­
rine metabolites and the likelihood that the drug dosage
will be ineffective or induce harmful side-effects.  We must
determine whether the claimed processes have trans­
formed these unpatentable natural laws into patent­
eligible applications of those laws. We conclude that they
have not done so and that therefore the processes are not
patentable.
Our conclusion rests upon an examination of the partic­
ular claims before us in light of the Court’s precedents.
Those cases warn us against interpreting patent statutes
in ways that make patent eligibility “depend simply on the
draftsman’s art” without reference to the “principles un­
derlying the prohibition against patents for [natural
laws].”  Flook,  supra, at 593.  They warn us against up­
holding patents that claim processes that too broadly
preempt the use of a natural law.  Morse,  supra, at 112–
120; Benson,  supra, at 71–72.  And they insist that a
process that focuses upon the use of a natural law also
contain other elements or a combination of elements,
sometimes referred to as an “inventive concept,” sufficient
to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to signifi­
cantly more than a patent upon the natural law itself.
Flook, supra, at 594; see also Bilski, supra, at ___ (slip op., 4  MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.

Opinion of the Court
at 14) (“[T]he prohibition against patenting abstract ideas
‘cannot be circumvented by attempting to limit the use of
the formula to a particular technological environment’ or
adding ‘insignificant postsolution activity’” (quoting Diehr,
supra, at 191–192)).
We find that the process claims at issue here do not
satisfy these conditions. In particular, the steps in the
claimed processes (apart from the natural laws them­
selves) involve well-understood, routine, conventional
activity previously engaged in by researchers in the field.
At the same time, upholding the patents would risk dis­
proportionately tying up the use of the underlying nat-
ural laws, inhibiting their use in the making of further
discoveries.
I
A
The patents before us concern the use of thiopurine
drugs in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.  When a patient
ingests a thiopurine compound, his body metabolizes the
drug, causing metabolites to form in his bloodstream.
Because the way in which people metabolize thiopurine
compounds varies, the same dose of a thiopurine drug
affects different people differently, and it has been difficult
for doctors to determine whether for a particular patient a
given dose is too high, risking harmful side effects, or too
low, and so likely ineffective.
At the time the discoveries embodied in the patents
were made, scientists already understood that the levels
in a patient’s blood of certain metabolites, including, in
particular, 6-thioguanine and its nucleotides (6–TG) and
6-methyl-mercaptopurine (6–MMP), were correlated with
the likelihood that a particular dosage of a thiopurine
drug could cause harm or prove ineffective.  See U. S.
Patent No. 6,355,623, col. 8, ll. 37–40, 2 App. 10. (“Previ­  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  5
Opinion of the Court
ous studies suggested that measurement of 6–MP metabo­
lite levels can be used to predict clinical efficacy and tol-
erance to azathioprine or 6–MP” (citing Cuffari, Théorêt,
Latour, & Seidman, 6-Mercaptopurine Metabolism in
Crohn’s Disease: Correlation  with Efficacy and Toxicity,
39 Gut 401 (1996))). But those in the field did not know
the precise correlations between metabolite levels and
likely harm or ineffectiveness. The patent claims at issue
here set forth processes embodying researchers’ findings
that identified these correlations with some precision.
More specifically, the patents—U. S. Patent No.
6,355,623 (’623 patent) and U. S. Patent No. 6,680,302
(’302 patent)—embody findings that concentrations in a
patient’s blood of 6–TG or of 6–MMP metabolite beyond a
certain level (400 and 7000 picomoles per 8x108
 red blood
cells, respectively) indicate that the dosage is likely too
high for the patient, while concentrations in the blood of
6–TG metabolite lower than a certain level (about 230
picomoles per 8x108
red blood cells) indicate that the
dosage is likely too low to be effective.
The patent claims seek to embody this research in a set
of processes.  Like the Federal Circuit we take as typical
claim 1 of the ’623 Patent, which describes one of the
claimed processes as follows:
“A method of optimizing therapeutic efficacy for
treatment of an immune-mediated gastrointestinal
disorder, comprising:
“(a) administering a drug providing 6-thioguanine to
a subject having said immune-mediated gastrointesti­
nal disorder; and
“(b) determining the level of 6-thioguanine in said
subject having said immune-mediated gastrointesti­
nal disorder,
“wherein the level of 6-thioguanine less than about
230 pmol per 8x108
 red blood cells indicates a need to 6  MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.

Opinion of the Court
increase the amount of said drug subsequently admin­
istered to said subject and
“wherein the level of 6-thioguanine greater than about
400 pmol per 8x108
 red blood cells indicates a need to
decrease the amount of said drug subsequently ad­
ministered to said subject.” ’623 patent, col. 20, ll. 10–
20, 2 App. 16.
For present purposes we may assume that the other
claims in the patents do not differ significantly from
claim 1.
B
Respondent, Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. (Prome­
theus), is the sole and exclusive licensee of the ’623 and
’302 patents. It sells diagnostic tests that embody the
processes the patents describe.  For some time petitioners,
Mayo Clinic Rochester and Mayo Collaborative Services
(collectively Mayo), bought and used those tests.  But in
2004 Mayo announced that it intended to begin using and
selling its own test—a test using somewhat higher metab­
olite levels to determine toxicity (450 pmol per 8x108
 for
6–TG and 5700 pmol per 8x108
 for 6–MMP). Prometheus
then brought this action claiming patent infringement.
The District Court found that Mayo’s test infringed
claim 7 of the ’623 patent.  App. to Pet. for Cert. 110a–
115a. In interpreting the claim, the court accepted Prome­
theus’ view that the toxicity-risk level numbers in Mayo’s
test and the claim were too similar to render the tests
significantly different. The number Mayo used (450) was
too close to the number the claim used (400) to matter
given appropriate margins of error.  Id., at 98a–107a.  The
District Court also accepted Prometheus’ view that  a
doctor using Mayo’s test could violate the patent even if he
did not actually alter his treatment decision in the light of
the test.  In doing so, the court construed the claim’s lan­
guage, “indicates a need to decrease” (or “to increase”), as Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  7
Opinion of the Court
not limited to instances in which the doctor actually de­
creases (or increases) the dosage level where the test
results suggest that such an adjustment is advisable.  Id.,
at 107a–109a; see also Brief for Respondent i (describing
claimed processes as methods “for improving . . . treat­
ment . . . by using individualized metabolite measure­
ments  to inform  the calibration of . . . dosages of . . .
thiopurines” (emphasis added)).
Nonetheless the District Court ultimately granted
summary judgment in Mayo’s favor.  The court reasoned
that the patents effectively claim natural laws or natural
phenomena—namely the correlations between thiopurine
metabolite levels and the toxicity and efficacy of thiopu­
rine drug dosages—and so are not patentable.  App. to Pet.
for Cert. 50a–83a.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed.  It pointed out
that in addition to these natural correlations, the claimed
processes specify the steps of (1) “administering a [thiopu­
rine] drug” to a patient and (2) “determining the [resulting
metabolite] level.”  These steps, it explained, involve the
transformation of the human body or of blood taken from
the body. Thus, the patents satisfied the Circuit’s “ma­
chine or transformation test,” which the court thought
sufficient to “confine the patent monopoly within rather
definite bounds,” thereby bringing the claims into compli­
ance with §101.  581 F. 3d 1336, 1345, 1346–1347 (2009)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
Mayo filed a petition for certiorari.  We granted the
petition, vacated the judgment, and remanded the case for
reconsideration in light of  Bilski, 561 U. S. ___, which
clarified that the “machine or transformation test” is not a
definitive test of patent eligibility, but only an important
and useful clue.  Id.,  at ___–___ (slip op., at 7–8).  On
remand the Federal Circuit reaffirmed its earlier conclu­
sion. It thought that the “machine-or-transformation
test,” understood merely as an important and useful clue,  
8  MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.

Opinion of the Court
nonetheless led to the “clear and compelling conclusion . . .
that the . . . claims . . . do not encompass laws of nature or
preempt natural correlations.”  628 F. 3d 1347, 1355
(2010). Mayo again filed a petition for certiorari, which we
granted.
II
Prometheus’ patents set forth laws of nature—namely,
relationships between concentrations of certain metabo­
lites in the blood and the likelihood that a dosage of a
thiopurine drug will prove ineffective or cause harm.
Claim 1, for example, states that if the levels of 6–TG in
the blood (of a patient who has taken a dose of a thiopu­
rine drug) exceed about 400 pmol per 8x108
 red blood cells,
then the administered dose is likely to produce toxic side
effects. While it takes a human action (the administration
of a thiopurine drug) to trigger a manifestation of this
relation in a particular person, the relation itself exists in
principle apart from any human action. The relation is a
consequence of the ways in which thiopurine compounds
are metabolized by the body—entirely natural processes.
And so a patent that simply describes that relation sets
forth a natural law.
The question before us is whether the claims do signifi­
cantly more than simply describe these natural relations.
To put the matter more precisely, do the patent claims add
enough to their statements of the correlations to allow the
processes they describe to qualify as patent-eligible pro­
cesses that apply natural laws?  We believe that the an­
swer to this question is no.
A
If a law of nature is not patentable, then neither is a
process reciting a law of nature, unless that process has
additional features that provide practical assurance that
the process is more than a drafting effort designed to Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  9
Opinion of the Court
monopolize the law of nature itself.  A patent, for example,
could not simply recite a law of nature and then add the
instruction “apply the law.”  Einstein, we assume, could
not have patented his famous law by claiming a process
consisting of simply telling linear accelerator operators to
refer to the law to determine how much energy an amount
of mass has produced (or vice versa). Nor could Archime­
des have secured a patent for his famous principle of
flotation by claiming a process consisting of simply telling
boat builders to refer to that principle in order to deter­
mine whether an object will float.
What else is there in the claims before us?  The process
that each claim recites tells doctors interested in the
subject about the correlations that the researchers discov­
ered. In doing so, it recites an “administering” step, a
“determining” step, and a “wherein” step. These addition­
al steps are not themselves natural laws but neither are
they sufficient to transform the nature of the claim.
First, the “administering” step simply refers to the
relevant audience, namely doctors who treat patients with
certain diseases with thiopurine drugs. That audience is
a pre-existing audience; doctors used thiopurine drugs to
treat patients suffering from autoimmune disorders long
before anyone asserted these claims. In any event, the
“prohibition against patenting abstract ideas ‘cannot be
circumvented by attempting to limit the use of the formula
to a particular technological environment.’”  Bilski, supra,
at ___ (slip op., at 14) (quoting Diehr, 450 U. S., at 191–
192).
Second, the “wherein” clauses simply tell a doctor about
the relevant natural laws, at most adding a suggestion
that he should take those laws into account when treating
his patient. That is to say, these clauses tell the relevant
audience about the laws while trusting them to use those
laws appropriately where they are relevant to their deci­
sionmaking (rather like Einstein telling linear accelerator 10 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
operators about his basic law and then trusting them to
use it where relevant).
Third, the “determining” step tells the doctor to deter­
mine the level of the relevant metabolites in the blood,
through whatever process the doctor or the laboratory
wishes to use. As the patents state, methods for determin­
ing metabolite levels were well known in the art.  ’623
patent, col. 9, ll. 12–65, 2 App. 11.  Indeed, scientists
routinely measured metabolites as part of their investiga­
tions into the relationships between metabolite levels and
efficacy and toxicity of thiopurine compounds.  ’623 patent,
col. 8, ll. 37–40,  id., at 10. Thus, this step tells doctors
to engage in well-understood, routine, conventional activity
previously engaged in by scientists who work in the field.
Purely “conventional or obvious” “[pre]-solution activity” is
normally not sufficient to transform an unpatentable law
of nature into a patent-eligible application of such a law.
Flook, 437 U. S., at 590; see also Bilski, 561 U. S., at ___
(slip op., at 14) (“[T]he prohibition against patenting ab­
stract ideas ‘cannot be circumvented by’ . . . adding ‘insig­
nificant post-solution activity’” (quoting  Diehr,  supra, at
191–192)).
Fourth, to consider the three steps as an ordered combi­
nation adds nothing to the laws of nature that is not al­
ready present when the steps are considered separately.
See Diehr, supra, at 188 (“[A] new combination of steps in
a process may be patentable even though all the constitu­
ents of the combination were well known and in common
use before the combination was made”).  Anyone who
wants to make use of these laws must first administer a
thiopurine drug and measure the resulting metabolite
concentrations, and so the combination amounts to noth­
ing significantly more than an  instruction to doctors to
apply the applicable laws when treating their patients.
The upshot is that the three steps simply tell doctors to
gather data from which they may draw an inference in Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  11
Opinion of the Court
light of the correlations. To put the matter more suc­
cinctly, the claims inform a relevant audience about
certain laws of nature; any additional steps consist of well­
understood, routine, conventional activity already engaged
in by the scientific community; and those steps, when
viewed as a whole, add nothing significant beyond the sum
of their parts taken separately.  For these reasons we
believe that the steps are not sufficient to transform un­
patentable natural correlations into patentable applica­
tions of those regularities.
B
1
A more detailed consideration of the controlling prece­
dents reinforces our conclusion. The cases most directly
on point are Diehr and Flook, two cases in which the Court
reached opposite conclusions about the patent eligibility of
processes that embodied the equivalent of natural laws.
The Diehr process (held patent eligible) set forth a method
for molding raw, uncured rubber into various cured, mold­
ed products. The process  used a known mathematical
equation, the Arrhenius equation, to determine when
(depending upon the temperature inside the mold, the
time the rubber had been in the mold, and the thickness of
the rubber) to open the press.  It consisted in effect of the
steps of: (1) continuously monitoring the temperature on
the inside of the mold, (2) feeding the resulting numbers
into a computer, which would use the Arrhenius equation
to continuously recalculate the mold-opening time, and (3)
configuring the computer so that at the appropriate mo­
ment it would signal “a device” to open the press.  Diehr,
450 U. S., at 177–179.
The Court pointed out that the basic mathematical
equation, like a law of nature, was not patentable. But
it found the overall process  patent eligible because of
the way the additional steps of the process integrated the 12 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
equation into the process as a whole.  Those steps included
“installing rubber in a press, closing the mold, constantly
determining the temperature of the mold, constantly re-
calculating the appropriate cure time through the use of
the formula and a digital computer, and automatically
opening the press at the proper time.”   Id., at 187. It
nowhere suggested that all these steps, or at least the
combination of those steps, were in context obvious, al­
ready in use, or purely conventional. And so the patentees
did not “seek to pre-empt the use of [the] equation,” but
sought “only to foreclose from others the use of that equa­
tion in conjunction with all of the other steps in their
claimed process.”  Ibid. These other steps apparently
added to the formula something that in terms of patent
law’s objectives had significance—they transformed the
process into an inventive application of the formula.
The process in  Flook  (held not patentable) provided a
method for adjusting “alarm limits” in the catalytic con­
version of hydrocarbons.  Certain operating conditions
(such as temperature, pressure, and flow rates), which are
continuously monitored during the conversion process,
signal inefficiency or danger when they exceed certain
“alarm limits.” The claimed process amounted to an im­
proved system for updating those alarm limits through the
steps of: (1) measuring the current level of the variable,
e.g., the temperature; (2) using an apparently novel math­
ematical algorithm to calculate the current alarm limits;
and (3) adjusting the system to reflect the new alarm-limit
values. 437 U. S., at 585–587.
The Court, as in Diehr, pointed out that the basic math­
ematical equation, like a law of nature, was not patenta­
ble. But it characterized the claimed process as doing
nothing other than “provid[ing] a[n unpatentable] formula
for computing an updated alarm limit.”  Flook,  supra, at
586.  Unlike the process in Diehr, it did not “explain how
the variables used in the formula were to be selected, nor Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  13
Opinion of the Court
did the [claim] contain any disclosure relating to chemical
processes at work or the means of setting off an alarm or
adjusting the alarm limit.”  Diehr, supra, at 192, n. 14; see
also Flook, 437 U. S., at 586.  And so the other steps in the
process did not limit the claim to a particular application.
Moreover, “[t]he chemical processes involved in catalytic
conversion of hydrocarbons[,] . . . the practice of monitor­
ing the chemical process variables, the use of alarm limits
to trigger alarms, the notion that alarm limit values must
be recomputed and readjusted, and the use of comput-
ers for ‘automatic monitoring-alarming’” were all “well
known,” to the point where, putting the formula to the
side, there was no “inventive concept” in the claimed
application of the formula.  Id., at 594. “[P]ost-solution
activity” that is purely “conventional or obvious,” the
Court wrote, “can[not] transform an unpatentable princi­
ple into a patentable process.”  Id., at 589, 590.
The claim before us presents a case for patentability
that is weaker than the (patent-eligible) claim in  Diehr
and no stronger than the (unpatentable) claim in  Flook.
Beyond picking out the relevant audience, namely those
who administer doses of thiopurine drugs, the claim simply tells doctors to: (1) measure (somehow) the current level
of the relevant metabolite, (2) use particular (unpatenta­
ble) laws of nature (which the claim sets forth) to calculate
the current toxicity/inefficacy limits, and (3) reconsider the
drug dosage in light of the law. These instructions add
nothing specific to the laws of nature other than what is
well-understood, routine, conventional activity, previously
engaged in by those in the field.  And since they are steps
that must be taken in order to apply the laws in question,
the effect is simply to tell doctors to apply the law some­
how when treating their patients.  The process in  Diehr
was not so characterized; that in Flook was characterized
in roughly this way. 14 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
2
Other cases offer further support for the view that simp­
ly appending conventional steps, specified at a high level
of generality, to laws of nature, natural phenomena, and
abstract ideas cannot make those laws, phenomena, and
ideas patentable. This Court has previously discussed in
detail an English case,  Neilson,  which involved a patent
claim that posed a legal problem very similar to the prob­
lem now before us. The patent applicant there asserted a
claim
“for the improved application of air to produce heat in
fires, forges, and furnaces, where a blowing apparatus
is required. [The invention] was to be applied as
follows: The blast or current of air produced by the
blowing apparatus was to be passed from it into
an air-vessel or receptacle made sufficiently strong to
endure the blast; and through or from that vessel or
receptacle by means of a tube, pipe, or aperture into
the fire, the receptacle be kept artificially heated to a
considerable temperature by heat externally applied.”
Morse, 15 How., at 114–115.
The English court concluded that the claimed process did
more than simply instruct users to use the principle that
hot air promotes ignition better than cold air, since it
explained how the principle could be implemented in an
inventive way. Baron Parke wrote (for the court):
“It is very difficult to distinguish [Neilson’s claim]
from the specification of a patent for a principle, and
this at first created in the minds of some of the court
much difficulty; but after full consideration, we think
that the plaintiff does not merely claim a principle,
but a machine embodying a principle, and a very val­
uable one. We think the case must be considered as if
the principle being well known, the plaintiff had first  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  15
Opinion of the Court
invented a mode of applying it by a mechanical appa­
ratus to furnaces; and his invention then consists in
this—by interposing a receptacle for heated air be­
tween the blowing apparatus and the furnace.  In this
receptacle he directs the air to be heated by the appli­
cation of heat externally to the receptacle, and thus he
accomplishes the object of applying the blast, which
was before of cold air, in a heated state to the fur­
nace.”  Neilson v. Harford, Webster’s Patent Cases, at
371.
Thus, the claimed process included not only a law of
nature but also several unconventional steps (such as
inserting the receptacle, applying heat to the receptacle
externally, and blowing the air into the furnace) that
confined the claims to a particular, useful application of the
principle.
In Bilski the Court considered claims covering a process
for hedging risks of price changes by, for example, con­
tracting to purchase commodities from sellers at a fixed
price, reflecting the desire  of sellers to hedge against a
drop in prices, while selling commodities to consumers at a
fixed price, reflecting the desire of consumers to hedge
against a price increase. One claim described the process;
another reduced the process to a mathematical formula.
561 U. S., at ___–___ (slip op., at 2–3).  The Court held
that the described “concept of hedging” was “an unpatent­
able abstract idea.”   Id., at ___ (slip op., at 15).  The fact
that some of the claims limited hedging to use in commod­
ities and energy markets and specified that “well-known
random analysis techniques [could be used] to help estab­
lish some of the inputs into the equation” did not under­
mine this conclusion, for “Flook  established that limiting
an abstract idea to one field of use or adding token postso­
lution components did not make the concept patentable.”
Id., at ___, ___ (slip op., at 16, 15).  
16 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
 Finally, in Benson the Court considered the patentabil­
ity of a mathematical process for converting binary-coded
decimal numerals into pure binary numbers on a general
purpose digital computer.  The claims “purported to cover
any use of the claimed method in a general-purpose digital
computer of any type.” 409 U. S., at 64, 65.  The Court
recognized that “‘a novel and useful structure created with
the aid of knowledge of scientific truth’” might be patent­
able.  Id., at 67 (quoting Mackay Radio, 306 U. S., at 94).
But it held that simply implementing a mathematical
principle on a physical machine, namely a computer, was
not a patentable application of that principle. For the
mathematical formula had “no substantial practical appli­
cation except in connection  with a digital computer.”
Benson,  supra, at 71.  Hence the claim (like the claims
before us) was overly broad; it did not differ significantly
from a claim that just said “apply the algorithm.”
3
The Court has repeatedly emphasized this last men­
tioned concern, a concern that patent law not inhibit
further discovery by improperly tying up the future use of
laws of nature.  Thus, in  Morse  the Court set aside as
unpatentable Samuel Morse’s general claim for “ ‘the use
of the motive power of the electric or galvanic current . . .
however developed, for making or printing intelligible
characters, letters, or signs, at any distances,’” 15 How., at
86.  The Court explained:
“For aught that we now know some future inventor, in
the onward march of science, may discover a mode of
writing or printing at a distance by means of the elec­
tric or galvanic current, without using any part of the
process or combination set forth in the plaintiff ’s spec­
ification. His invention may be less complicated—less
liable to get out of order—less expensive in construc­
tion, and in its operation.  But yet if it is covered by  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  17
Opinion of the Court
this patent the inventor could not use it, nor the pub­
lic have the benefit of it without the permission of this
patentee.”  Id., at 113.
 Similarly, in  Benson  the Court said that the claims
before it were “so abstract and sweeping as to cover both
known and unknown uses of the [mathematical formula].”
409 U. S., at 67, 68.  In Bilski the Court pointed out that
to allow “petitioners to patent risk hedging would pre­
empt use of this approach in all fields.”  561 U. S., at ___
(slip op., at 15).  And in Flook the Court expressed concern
that the claimed process was simply “a formula for compu­
ting an updated alarm limit,” which might “cover a broad
range of potential uses.”  437 U. S., at 586.
These statements reflect the fact that, even though
rewarding with patents those who discover new laws of
nature and the like might well encourage their discovery,
those laws and principles, considered generally, are “the
basic tools of scientific  and technological work.”   Benson,
supra, at 67.  And so there is a danger that the grant of
patents that tie up their use will inhibit future innovation
premised upon them, a danger that becomes acute when a
patented process amounts to no more than an instruction
to “apply the natural law,” or otherwise forecloses more
future invention than the underlying discovery could
reasonably justify. See generally Lemley, Risch, Sichel­
man, & Wagner, Life After  Bilski, 63 Stan. L. Rev. 1315
(2011) (hereinafter Lemley) (arguing that §101 reflects
this kind of concern); see also C. Bohannan & H.
Hovenkamp, Creation without Restraint: Promoting Lib­
erty and Rivalry in Innovation 112 (2012) (“One problem
with [process] patents is that the more abstractly their
claims are stated, the more difficult it is to determine
precisely what they cover. They risk being applied to a
wide range of situations that were not anticipated by the
patentee”); W. Landes & R. Posner, The Economic Struc­18 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
ture of Intellectual Property Law 305–306 (2003) (The
exclusion from patent law of basic truths reflects “both . . .
the enormous potential for rent seeking that would be
created if property rights could be obtained in them and
. . . the enormous transaction costs that would be imposed
on would-be users [of those truths]”).
The laws of nature at issue here are narrow laws that
may have limited applications, but the patent claims that
embody them nonetheless implicate this concern.  They
tell a treating doctor to measure metabolite levels and to
consider the resulting measurements in light of the statis­
tical relationships they describe. In doing so, they tie up
the doctor’s subsequent treatment decision whether that
treatment does, or does not, change in light of the infer­
ence he has drawn using the correlations.  And they
threaten to inhibit the development of more refined treat­
ment recommendations (like that embodied in Mayo’s
test), that combine Prometheus’ correlations with later
discovered features of metabolites, human physiology or
individual patient characteristics. The “determining” step
too is set forth in highly general language covering all
processes that make use of the correlations after measur­
ing metabolites, including later discovered processes that
measure metabolite levels in new ways.
We need not, and do not, now decide whether were the
steps at issue here less conventional, these features of
the claims would prove sufficient to invalidate them.  For
here, as we have said, the steps add nothing of signifi­
cance to the natural laws themselves. Unlike, say, a
typical patent on a new drug or a new way of using an
existing drug, the patent claims do not confine their reach
to particular applications of those laws.  The presence here
of the basic underlying concern that these patents tie up
too much future use of laws of nature simply reinforces
our conclusion that the processes described in the patents
are not patent eligible, while eliminating any temptation Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  19
Opinion of the Court
to depart from case law precedent.
III
We have considered several further arguments in sup­
port of Prometheus’ position.  But they do not lead us to
adopt a different conclusion. First, the Federal Circuit, in
upholding the patent eligibility of the claims before us,
relied on this Court’s determination that “[t]ransformation
and reduction of an article ‘to a different state or thing’ is
the clue to the patentability of a process claim that does
not include particular machines.”  Benson, supra, at 70–71
(emphasis added); see also Bilski, supra, at ___ (slip op., at
6–7); Diehr, 450 U. S., at 184; Flook,  supra, at 588, n. 9;
Cochrane v. Deener, 94 U. S. 780, 788 (1877).  It reasoned
that the claimed processes are therefore patent eligible,
since they involve transforming the human body by ad­
ministering a thiopurine drug and transforming the blood
by analyzing it to determine metabolite levels.  628 F. 3d,
at 1356–1357.
The first of these transformations, however, is irrele­
vant. As we have pointed out, the “administering” step
simply helps to pick out the group of individuals who are
likely interested in applying the law of nature.  See supra,
at 9. And the second step could be satisfied without trans­
forming the blood, should science develop a totally differ­
ent system for determining metabolite levels that did not
involve such a transformation.  See supra, at 18. Regard­
less, in stating that the “machine-or-transformation” test
is an “important and useful clue” to patentability, we have
neither said nor implied that the test trumps the “law of
nature” exclusion.  Bilski,  supra, at ___ (slip op., at 6–7)
(emphasis added).  That being so, the test fails here.
Second, Prometheus argues that, because the particular
laws of nature that its patent claims embody are narrow
and specific, the patents should be upheld.  Thus, it en­
courages us to draw distinctions among laws of nature 20 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
based on whether or not they will interfere significantly
with innovation in other fields now or in the future.  Brief
for Respondent 42–46; see also Lemley 1342–1344 (mak­
ing similar argument).
But the underlying functional concern here is a relative
one: how much future innovation is foreclosed relative to
the contribution of the inventor. See  supra, at 17. A
patent upon a narrow law of nature may not inhibit future
research as seriously as would a patent upon Einstein’s
law of relativity, but the creative value of the discovery is
also considerably smaller.  And, as we have previously
pointed out, even a narrow law of nature (such as the
one before us) can inhibit future research.  See supra, at
17–18.
In any event, our cases have not distinguished among
different laws of nature according to whether or not the
principles they embody are sufficiently narrow.  See, e.g.,
Flook, 437 U. S. 584 (holding narrow mathematical formu­
la unpatentable). And this is understandable. Courts and
judges are not institutionally well suited to making the
kinds of judgments needed to distinguish among different laws of nature.  And so the cases have endorsed a
bright-line prohibition against patenting laws of nature,
mathematical formulas and the like, which serves as a
somewhat more easily administered proxy for the underlying
“building-block” concern.
Third, the Government argues that virtually any step
beyond a statement of a law of nature itself should trans­
form an unpatentable law of nature into a potentially
patentable application sufficient to satisfy §101’s de­
mands. Brief for United States as  Amicus Curiae. The
Government does not necessarily believe that claims that
(like the claims before us) extend just minimally beyond a
law of nature should receive patents.  But in its view,
other statutory provisions—those that insist that a
claimed process be novel, 35 U. S. C. §102, that it not be  
Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  21
Opinion of the Court
“obvious in light of prior art,” §103, and that it be “full[y],
clear[ly], concise[ly], and exact[ly]” described, §112—can
perform this screening function. In particular, it argues
that these claims likely fail for lack of novelty under §102.
This approach, however, would make the “law of nature”
exception to §101 patentability a dead letter. The ap­
proach is therefore not consistent with prior law. The
relevant cases rest their holdings upon section 101, not
later sections.  Bilski, 561 U. S. ___; Diehr,  supra; Flook,
supra; Benson, 409 U. S. 63.  See also H. R. Rep. No. 1923,
82d Cong., 2d Sess., 6 (1952) (“A person may have ‘invent­
ed’ a machine or a manufacture, which may include any­
thing under the sun that is made by man,  but it is not
necessarily patentable under section 101 unless the condi­
tions of the title are fulfilled” (emphasis added)).
We recognize that, in evaluating the significance of
additional steps, the §101 patent-eligibility inquiry and,
say, the §102 novelty inquiry might sometimes overlap.
But that need not always be so.  And to shift the patent­
eligibility inquiry entirely to these later sections risks
creating significantly greater legal uncertainty, while
assuming that those sections can do work that they are
not equipped to do.
What role would laws of nature, including newly discov­
ered (and “novel”) laws of nature, play in the Govern­
ment’s suggested “novelty” inquiry?  Intuitively, one would
suppose that a newly discovered law of nature is novel.
The Government, however, suggests in effect that the
novelty of a component law of nature may be disregarded
when evaluating the novelty of the whole. See Brief for
United States as  Amicus Curiae  27. But §§102 and 103
say nothing about treating laws of nature as if they were
part of the prior art when applying those sections.  Cf.
Diehr, 450 U. S., at 188 (patent claims “must be consid­
ered as a whole”). And studiously ignoring  all laws of
nature when evaluating a patent application under §§102 22 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
and 103 would “make all inventions unpatentable because
all inventions can be reduced to underlying principles of
nature which, once known, make their implementation
obvious.”  Id., at 189, n. 12.  See also Eisenberg, Wisdom of
the Ages or Dead-Hand Control?  Patentable Subject
Matter for Diagnostic Methods After In re Bilski, 3 Case
W. Res. J. L. Tech. & Internet 1, ___ (forthcoming, 2012)
(manuscript, at 85–86, online at http://www.patentlyo.com/
files/eisenberg.wisdomordeadhand.patentlyo.pdf (as vis­
ited Mar. 16, 2012, and available in Clerk of Court’s
case file)); 2 D. Chisum, Patents §5.03[3] (2005).
Section 112 requires only a “written description of the
invention . . . in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms
as to enable any person skilled in the art . . . to make and
use the same.” It does not focus on the possibility that a
law of nature (or its equivalent) that meets these condi­
tions will nonetheless create the kind of risk that under­
lies the law of nature exception, namely the risk that a
patent on the law would significantly impede future innovation. See Lemley 1329–1332 (outlining differences
between §§101 and 112); Eisenberg,  supra, at ___ (manu­
script, at 92–96) (similar). Compare Risch, Everything
is Patentable, 75 Tenn. L. Rev. 591 (2008) (defending a
minimalist approach to §101) with Lemley (reflecting
Risch’s change of mind).
These considerations lead us to decline the Govern­
ment’s invitation to substitute §§102, 103, and 112 inquir­
ies for the better established inquiry under §101.
Fourth, Prometheus, supported by several amici, argues
that a principle of law denying patent coverage here will
interfere significantly with the ability of medical research­
ers to make valuable discoveries, particularly in the area
of diagnostic research.  That research, which includes
research leading to the discovery of laws of nature, is
expensive; it “ha[s] made the United States the world
leader in this field”; and it requires protection.  Brief for Cite as: 566 U. S. ____ (2012)  23
Opinion of the Court
Respondent 52.
Other medical experts, however, argue strongly against
a legal rule that would make the present claims patent
eligible, invoking policy considerations that point in the
opposite direction. The American Medical Association, the
American College of Medical Genetics, the American
Hospital Association, the American Society of Human
Genetics, the Association of American Medical Colleges,
the Association for Molecular Pathology, and other medi­
cal organizations tell us that if “claims to exclusive rights
over the body’s natural responses to illness and medical
treatment are permitted to stand, the result will be a vast
thicket of exclusive rights over the use of critical scientific
data that must remain widely available if physicians are
to provide sound medical care.”  Brief for American Col­
lege of Medical Genetics et al. as Amici Curiae 7; see also
App. to Brief for Association Internationale pour la Protec­
tion de la Propriété Intellectuelle et al. as  Amici Curiae
A6, A16 (methods of medical treatment are not patentable
in most of Western Europe).
We do not find this kind of difference of opinion surpris­
ing. Patent protection is, after all, a two-edged sword.  On
the one hand, the promise of exclusive rights provides
monetary incentives that lead to creation, invention, and
discovery. On the other hand, that very exclusivity can
impede the flow of information that might permit, indeed
spur, invention, by, for example, raising the price of using
the patented ideas once created, requiring potential users
to conduct costly and time-consuming searches of existing
patents and pending patent  applications, and requiring
the negotiation of complex licensing arrangements. At the
same time, patent law’s general rules must govern in­
ventive activity in many different fields of human endeav­
or, with the result that the practical effects of rules that
reflect a general effort to balance these considerations
may differ from one field to another.  See Bohannan &  
24 MAYO COLLABORATIVE SERVICES v. PROMETHEUS
 LABORATORIES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
Hovenkamp, Creation without Restraint, at 98–100.
In consequence, we must hesitate before departing from
established general legal rules lest a new protective rule
that seems to suit the needs of one field produce unfore­
seen results in another. And we must recognize the role of
Congress in crafting more finely tailored rules where
necessary.  Cf. 35 U. S. C. §§161–164 (special rules for
plant patents).  We need not determine here whether,
from a policy perspective, increased protection for discov­
eries of diagnostic laws of nature is desirable.
* * *
For these reasons, we conclude that the patent claims at
issue here effectively claim the underlying laws of nature
themselves.  The claims are consequently invalid.  And the
Federal Circuit’s judgment is reversed.
It is so ordered.