Patent Law: David Pressman's Commentary on the Alice Decision

The new view on computer assisted inventions

By David Pressman: On June 19, 2014, the Supreme Court issued a controversial decision in Alice v. CLS. At issue was a patent directed to a process for lessening settlement risk in a financial transaction by using a computer as a third-party intermediary. The Court held that the claims were invalid because they were directed to an abstract idea and providing a computer intermediary did not make them unobvious because the steps performed by the computer were conventional. In other words, computerizing a conventional process is not patentable. This decision casts a cloud on many existing software patents and makes the future of business method patents is unclear, but we must live with it until and unless Congress clarifies the law to make the determination of patent eligibility less subjective. In the meantime, the best solution is to provide more hardware than just a computer in the claims and make sure to claim an end product that involves hardware. If you can’t do that, make sure that the elements of the claim are directed to more than just an abstract idea, e.g., by reciting improvements in computer or underlying technology.