Alice v CLS Bank: Supreme Court says computer-implemented inventions not patentable


The US Supreme Court has settled a long-running case after ruling that computer-implemented inventions are not patentable.

The hotly-anticipated ruling in Alice Corporation v CLS Bank should provide greater clarity on the patentability of such inventions, which has been debated since the dispute started in 2007.

In a unanimous verdict today, June 19, all nine Supreme Court judges said that four patents, which protect software-implemented inventions, did not contain patentable subject matter.

“The question presented is whether these claims are patent-eligible … or are instead drawn to a patent-ineligible abstract idea,” the opinion said.

“We hold that the 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,” it added.

The case started when CLS Bank, a provider of foreign exchange market software, had challenged the attempts by Alice Corporation, an Australian organisation, to patent claims covering a computer system for electronic financial transactions.

The four patents were later deemed invalid, but the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the decision and sent it for a re-hearing en banc (before all of its judges).

In May last year, the seven Federal Circuit judges agreed that Alice’s claims were patent-ineligible but a majority of them could not agree on the legal rationale for that conclusion.

For greater clarity, Alice appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming that the legal standards governing whether computer-implemented inventions are patent-eligible remain “entirely unclear” and “utterly panel dependent”.


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