When are computer related inventions considered patent eligible rather than merely abstract ideas? Put simply, there is no bright line test at the moment, which was essentially (though unofficially) confirmed in CLS Bank International v. Alice Corp on May 10, 2013. Rather than providing a specific new test for determining whether a computer-implemented invention is patent eligible and not merely an “abstract” idea under Section 101 of the U.S. patent laws, the Federal Circuit in this case simply issued a per curiam opinion affirming the District Court’s ruling. The District court held that the asserted claims of Alice Corp.’s U.S. patents were invalid because they did not recite patent-eligible subject matter, but were instead merely directed to the abstract idea of “employing an intermediary to facilitate simultaneous exchange of obligations in order to minimize risk,” despite involving computers.
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As written earlier in our blog, the CLS Bank decision left many guessing as to what might be considered patent eligible subject matter under § 101 of the U.S. patent laws. In a more recent and less known opinion, Ultramercial, Inc. v. Hulu, LLC (Fed. Cir. 2013), a three judge panel attempted to provide some additional guidance in light of the CLS Bank indecision. Of note is that the panel included the authors of the two main opposing opinions in CLS Bank, Chief Judge Rader and Judge Lourie. However, rather than authoring different holdings, the panel agreed that the claims at issue in this case met the requirements of § 101.
Four months after the CLS Bank v. Alice opinion, the Federal Circuit continues to struggle with subject matter eligibility of computer-related inventions under § 101 of the U.S. patent laws. In Accenture Global Services, GMBH v. Guidewire Software, Inc. (Fed Cir. 2013), Chief Judge Rader and Judge Lourie continue their disparate dialog that began in CLS Bank Int’l v. Alice Corp, and continued in Ultramercial Inc. v. Hulu LLC. However, contrary to the result in Ultramercial, here the party arguing against eligibility of computer programs won out.