I have written in a couple of previous blog posts (here and here) about Alice vs. CLS in the US, which is an ongoing case relating to the question of which subject matter should be excluded from patent protection in the US.
Following on from the referral to the Supreme Court, the Oral Arguments were held on 31 March, and you can see the provisional transcript here.

The reason the case is generating interest is the possibility that the court might hand down guidance that clarifies where the boundaries should lie, or sets out new guidelines, that might improve the current practice on determining when an invention should be excluded from patentability.  35 USC 101 states that “Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor”, subject other provisions of the patent legislation. This broad definition is limited by established exceptions stating that laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas are excluded from patent eligibility.

However in recent years these exceptions have been applied narrowly and so in practice business methods can be patented if appropriate tangible structures are recited – this means that they are not considered to be “abstract”.  In practice, the kind of tangible structures that are recited for backing up business method patents are computers with necessary software for carrying out the relevant transactions.

There is undoubdtely a political will to improve the “quality” of patents that are issued and enforced.  However the Court seems concerned about making changes that will unfairly destroy the validity of many existing patents; while at the same time not wanting to remove the existing restrictions.  Because of these balancing tensions and from the general thrust of the transcript, I would be surprised if the final judgment yielded a ruling that will make any fundamental difference.

Ohters have written more eloquently and in more depth on this case:  I refer you to Florian Muller’s FOSS Patents blog and to Dennis Crouch’s Patently-O blog for more detailed insight and opinion.

I will blog again once the judgment issues.