Held: Because the claims are drawn to a patent-ineligible abstract idea, they are not patent eligible under §101. Pp. 5–17.
(a) The Court has long held that §101, which defines the subject matter eligible for patent protection, contains an implicit exception for ‘ “[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas.’ ” Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 569 U. S. ___, ___. In applying the §101 exception, this Court must distinguish patents that claim the “ ‘buildin[g] block[s]’ ” of human ingenuity, which are ineligible for patent protection, from those that integrate the building blocks into something more, see Mayo Collaborative Ser- vices v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 566 U. S. ___, ___, thereby “transform[ing]” them into a patent-eligible invention, id., at ___. Pp. 5–6.
(b) Using this framework, the Court must first determine whether the claims at issue are directed to a patent-ineligible concept. 566 U. S., at ___. If so, the Court then asks whether the claim’s elements, considered both individually and “as an ordered combination,” “transform the nature of the claim” into a patent-eligible application. Id., at ___. Pp. 7–17.
(1) The claims at issue are directed to a patent-ineligible concept: the abstract idea of intermediated settlement. Under “the longstanding rule that ‘[a]n idea of itself is not patentable,’ ” Gottschalk v. Benson, 409 U. S. 63, 67, this Court has found ineligible patent claims involving an algorithm for converting binary-coded decimal numerals into pure binary form, id., at 71–72; a mathematical formula for computing “alarm limits” in a catalytic conversion process, Parker v. Flook, 437 U. S. 584, 594–595; and, most recently, a method for hedging against the financial risk of price fluctuations, Bilski, 561 U. S, at 599. It follows from these cases, and Bilski in particular, that the claims at issue are directed to an abstract idea. On their face, they are drawn to the concept of intermediated settlement, i.e., the use of a third party to mitigate settlement risk. Like the risk hedging in Bilski, the concept of intermediated settlement is “ ‘a fundamental economic practice long prevalent in our system of commerce,’ ” ibid., and the use of a third-party intermediary (or “clearing house”) is a building block of the modern economy. Thus, intermediated settlement, like hedging, is an “abstract idea” beyond §101’s scope. Pp. 7– 10.
(2) Turning to the second step of Mayo’s framework: The method claims, which merely require generic computer implementation, fail to transform that abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention. Pp. 10–16.
(i) “Simply appending conventional steps, specified at a high level of generality,” to a method already “well known in the art” is not “enough” to supply the “ ‘inventive concept’ ” needed to make this transformation. Mayo, supra, at ___, ___. The introduction of a computer into the claims does not alter the analysis. Neither stating an abstract idea “while adding the words ‘apply it,’ ” Mayo, supra, at ___, nor limiting the use of an abstract idea “ ‘to a particular technological environment,’ ” Bilski, supra, at 610–611, is enough for patent eligibility. Stating an abstract idea while adding the words “apply it with a computer” simply combines those two steps, with the same deficient result. Wholly generic computer implementation is not generally the sort of “additional featur[e]” that provides any “practical assurance that the process is more than a drafting effort designed to monopolize the [abstract idea] itself.” Mayo, supra, at ___. Pp. 11–14.
(ii) Here, the representative method claim does no more than simply instruct the practitioner to implement the abstract idea of intermediated settlement on a generic computer. Taking the claim elements separately, the function performed by the computer at each step—creating and maintaining “shadow” accounts, obtaining data, adjusting account balances, and issuing automated instructions—is “[p]urely ‘conventional. ’ ” Mayo, 566 U. S., at ___. Considered “as an ordered combination,” these computer components “ad[d] nothing . . . that is not already present when the steps are considered separately.” Id., at ___. Viewed as a whole, these method claims simply recite the concept of intermediated settlement as performed by a generic computer. They do not, for example, purport to improve the functioning of the computer itself or effect an improvement in any other technology or technical field. An instruction to apply the abstract idea of intermediated settlement using some unspecified, generic computer is not “enough” to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention. Id., at ___. Pp. 14–16.
(3) Because petitioner’s system and media claims add nothing of substance to the underlying abstract idea, they too are patent ineligible under §101. Petitioner conceded below that its media claims rise or fall with its method claims. And the system claims are no different in substance from the method claims. The method claims recite the abstract idea implemented on a generic computer; the system claims recite a handful of generic computer components configured to implement the same idea. This Court has long “warn[ed] . . . against” interpreting §101 “in ways that make patent eligibility ‘depend simply on the draftsman’s art.’ ” Mayo, supra, at ___. Holding that the system claims are patent eligible would have exactly that result. Pp. 16–17.
717 F. 3d 1269, affirmed.
Rejection from the USPTO? Patent or trademark, we can help.
Please visit us at Gehrke & Associates, SC.