Renewing its recent fascination with the kinds of inventions that can be patented, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to clarify when an analytical method implemented by a computer or by a link on the Internet is eligible for monopoly protection. This was the only new case granted. The Court will be reviewing a widely splintered decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in the case of Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International (docket 13-298). The en banc Federal Circuit found the method at issue ineligible for a patent, but a majority could not agree on a standard for making such decisions.
The case will provide a new test of the Patent Act's most basic provision — Section 101, which broadly outlines what kinds of inventions are patentable. One of the long-standing exceptions to the types of inventions mentioned in that section is that an abstract idea can never be patented. That issue arises frequently these days, especially with rapidly developing technology in computer software. The Justices have dealt with that issue several times in recent years.