The Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in Alice Corp. vs. CLS Bank. The opinion touched off a storm of “interpretations” in the media, ranging from “Major Blow to Trolls” (wired.com) to “Affirms Status-Quo” (scotusblog.com). While one may wonder at the unanimity of the opinion post-Bilski, the Court was at pains to cast this opinion in terms of a long tradition of excluding “abstract ideas” from patentability. The bulk of the opinion concerns the method claims, but it concludes by dismissing the “computer-readable media” claims (long a favorite end-run by patent drafters) and, importantly, the system claims as well. This last draws directly from Bilski:
… none of the hardware recited by the system claims “offers a meaningful limitation beyond generally linking ‘the use of the [method] to a particular technological environment,’ that is, implementation via computers.” Id., at 1291 (quoting Bilski, 561 U. S., at 610–611).
It would seem to me that this opinion eviscerates many of the algorithmic patents that have issued over the years. By algorithmic patents, I mean those patents which claim otherwise obvious (or not so obvious) algorithms implemented by computer, stored on computer-readable media, etc. Given the Court’s reluctance to elaborate on what is meant by “abstract ideas”, the opinion certainly does not put an end to software patents, but does portend new emphases in litigation.
For those who have never read a SCOTUS opinion, may I recommend doing so now. Making exception for a bit of legal jargon (mostly borrowed from Latin and mostly confined to references), SCOTUS opinions are often masterful pieces of composition.