Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int’l

Alice Corporation holds patents that disclose a scheme for mitigating “settlement risk,” i.e., the risk that only one party to an agreed-upon financial exchange will satisfy its obligation. The patent claims are designed to facilitate the exchange of financial obligations between parties, using a computer system as a third-party intermediary. The patents claim: a method for exchanging financial obligations; a computer system configured to carry out that method; and a computer-readable medium containing program code for performing that method. CLS, a global network that facilitates currency transactions, challenged the claims as not infringed, invalid, or unenforceable. Alice counterclaimed infringement. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Bilski, the district court held that the claims were ineligible for patent protection under 35 U.S.C. 101. The Federal Circuit and a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed. Section 101, which defines the subject matter eligible for patent protection, contains an implicit exception for laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas. In applying the exception, patents that claim the building blocks of human ingenuity, which are ineligible for patent protection, must be distinguished from those that integrate the building blocks into something more, making them patent-eligible. The claims at issue are directed to a patent-ineligible concept: the abstract idea of intermediated settlement, which is “‘a fundamental economic practice long prevalent in our system of commerce.” The method claims, which simply require generic computer implementation, fail to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention. Stating an abstract idea, adding the words “apply it with a computer,” simply combines two steps, with the same deficient result. Taking the claim elements separately, the functions performed by the computer at each step are purely conventional: creating and maintaining “shadow” accounts, obtaining data, adjusting account balances, and issuing automated instructions. They do not purport to improve the functioning of the computer itself or improve any other technology or technical field. The system claims are no different in substance from the method claims, reciting a handful of generic computer components configured to implement the same idea. View "Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank Int'l" on Justia Law