A Town Like Alice

The U.S. Supreme Court decided the Alice Corp v. CLS Bank patent case today.

In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court today affirmed the Federal Circuit’s en banc decision invalidating the patents asserted by Alice Corporation against CLS Bank International as ineligible for patent protection under 35 U.S.C. §101 because they are directed to an abstract idea. See Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International et al. (U.S. June 19, 2014). 

In an opinion by Justice Thomas, today’s Supreme Court opinion held that:

[T]he claims at issue are drawn to the abstract idea of intermediated settlement, and that merely requiring generic computer implementation fails to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention.

In applying Mayo step one, the Court determined that Alice’s claims were drawn to the abstract concept of intermediated settlement (i.e., the use of a third party to mitigate settlement risk). Rejecting Alice’s arguments that the abstract-ideas category is confined to preexisting fundamental truths that exist apart from any human action, the Court ruled that intermediated settlement has long been a fundamental practice in our system of commerce, and recognized that Alice’s claims to intermediated settlement were not meaningfully distinguishable from the risk hedging claims it previously held to be abstract in Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593 (2010).

In a brief concurring opinion, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, opined that claims to business methods are ineligible per se for patent protection, because they do not qualify as a process under 35 U.S.C. §101.

See note from WilmerHale and prior blog posts below.

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