Although the general rule (based on 35 USC section 101) is that anything made by humans is patentable, there are exceptions. Laws of nature, physical phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable. Inventions that fall in these categories are “patent-ineligible,” that is, directed to subject matter that is not eligible to be patented. After the Supreme Court’s key decisions over the last few years in Bilski v. Kappos, 130 S. Ct. 3218 (2010); Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 132 S. Ct. 1289 (2012), and Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. V. CLS Bank International, 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014), the courts have increasingly held computerized methods of doing business unpatentable.
The district court for the Eastern District of Texas, where many patent infringement cases are filed, handled such a case in Kroy IP Holdings, LLC v. Safeway, Inc., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69363. In Kroy, the court provides a useful review of the state of the law, starting with the three Supreme Court cases.
In Bilski, supra, decided in 2010, the Supreme Court held that claims to a method for commodities traders to minimize the risk of price fluctuations was an unpatentable abstract idea. The idea of hedging against risks is a common practice in our economy. The Court found that an idea cannot be made patentable by limiting it to a particular field, such as commodities. The Court held that the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals’ previous test for claims that appear directed to abstract ideas, the machine-or-transformation test (which requires a claimed method to be linked to a particular machine or to transform an article into something else in order to be patentable) is one test that can be used, but is not the sole test.