Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int'l is a case about whether computer-implemented inventions -- specifically, a software application that reduces risk in currency transactions -- are patentable. The oral argument this week led the Court into deep hypothetical territory, illustrated by this peregrination from Justice Breyer:
Imagine King Tut sitting in front of the pyramid where all his gold is stored, and he has the habit of giving chits away. Good for the gold, which is given at the end of the day. And he hires a man with an abacus, and when the abacus keeping track sees that he’s given away more gold than he has in storage, he says, stop. You see? Or my mother, who used to look at my checkbook when she saw that in fact, I had written more checks than I had in the account, she would grab it. Stop. You see? ... How is that less abstract that King Tut, if we had the same thing with a grain elevator, if we had the same thing with a reservoir of water, if we had the same thing with my checkbook? You see the point.
And the difference between high-powered Supreme Court litigators and the rest of the world is that the defender of the patent DID see the point, and even had an answer, which was (slightly paraphrased) "Methodology!" But then again, perhaps he didn't see the point, because Justice Breyer was still puzzled. "If you say, computer stop, you have an invention. Useful add but if you say, mother stop, you don't?" In the end the litigator said something like, "but our patented methodology stops a whole bunch of transactions at exactly the right time." Which apparently he thinks Justice Breyer's mother could not do. Nor the abacus.
At any rate, the Wall Street Journal, and others, say that the Court appears "skeptical" about the patent claim.