Two years ago this Sunday, the Supreme Court in Alice Corp. Pty Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int'l1 addressed a relatively narrow issue: does a claim reciting a generic computer implementation transform an abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention? The Court considered this a "minor case" in which it did not break new ground, but instead simply followed its decisions in Bilski2 and Mayo.3 The Court reiterated a two-step test set forth in Mayo determine whether the claim recites a judicial exception and if so, determine whether the claim recites an "inventive concept," something "significantly more" than the exception and "enough" to transform the claim into eligible subject matter.4 The Court applied this test to find that Alice’s claim simply recited a fundamental economic practice of risk intermediation through third party settlement, and then held that the presence of generic computing elements or steps was not sufficient to provide an inventive concept.5 To the Court, this was an easy case.
Three aspects of the decision are worth noting. First, the Court did not see the case as presenting a difficult question of defining what is an abstract idea. "In any event, we need not labor to delimit the precise contours of the "abstract ideas" category in this case….Both [Alice and Bilski’s claims] are squarely within the realm of "abstract ideas" as we have used that term.6 In other words, whatever an abstract idea was before Alice, it was the same afterward: there was no expansion of the scope of the term.