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Between Scylla and Charybdis

I neglected to post sketches from the March 31 arguments in Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International. Here they are, better late than never.

Each day CLS Bank does about $5 trillion in transactions and uses a computer program to insure that everything balances out at the end of the day. Alice Corporation has a patent on an application that does the same thing by creating shadow accounts for all parties and not allowing transactions to go through unless all credits and debits balance out above zero.

The Court has previously held that natural processes (Mayo) and abstract ideas (Bilski) are not patentable. Is Alice Corporation’s patent really just the idea of solvency applied by a computer to balance the books?

Justice Breyer’s pharaohic hypothetical put it this way: “I mean, imagine King Tut sitting in front of the pyramid where all his gold is stored, and he has the habit of giving chits away.  Good for the gold, which is given at the end of the day.  And he hires a man with an abacus, and when the abacus keeping track sees that he’s given away more gold than he has in storage, he says, stop.”

On the other hand, software developers won’t have much incentive if their computer programs are unpatentable.

Again, Justice Breyer, “. . . there are a number of suggestions as to how to go between Scylla and Charybdis.  . . . I need to know what in your opinion is the best way of sailing between these two serious harms.”

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Baseball Bats and Rotten Tomatoes

The lawyer for a home mortgage loan fraudfeasor (I learned a new word today) had a number of colorful hypotheticals tossed at him by the Justices as they tackled a question of restitution. Here’s what he had to juggle, starting with Justice Breyer who is the Talmudic scholar of hypotheticals:

Breyer: “Mrs. Smith, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.”. . “But I also gave her my valuable Babe Ruth bat.”

Alito: “Suppose what the person who perpetrated the fraud returns is a truckload of tomatoes . . . and by the time the tomatoes can be sold they’re all rotten.”

Scalia: “You’re really confusing me. I . . I . .both the baseball bat and the truckload of tomatoes?”

The case is Robers v. United States

 

 

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SCOTUS In The Cold

Even the turtles holding up the Bronze lamps on the Supreme Court plaza seemed to want to pull in their heads from today’s frigid temperatures.

Inside, the Justices heard arguments in two puzzling cases.The first, Paroline v. U.S., presented the Court with the problem of apportioning restitution to victims of child pornography. In this digital age, where the same image can be downloaded by many participants in the sexual exploitation of a child, to what extent is each viewer responsible for the humiliation and damage suffered?The lawyer for the victim, Utah law professor Paul Cassell, in this case insisted that each perpetrator should be responsible for the entire $3.4 million award. “You’re not claiming - or are you” asked Justice Kagan, “that she’s been victimized to the tune of $3.4 million as a result of this particular defendant’s offense?”

“He contributed to the entire amount,” said Cassell.

The second case, Abramski v. U.S., concerns the so-called “Straw Purchaser” law that is supposed to prevent sales to those not entitled to own firearms, such as convicted felons, by requiring gun dealers to have buyers fill out a form. The form asks, ”Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm listed on this form?”Justice Breyer, pictured above on the left, known for often posing convoluted hypotheticals had an esoteric analysis of the term ‘Straw Purchaser’. “It comes from ‘straw bail’,” he told petitioner’s lawyer, RichardDietz, “where someone else put up the bail and it was called straw because the people who made a career of that used to wear straw in their shoes. Interesting.”

“He made that up,” Justice Scalia interjected.

Lyle Denniston’s analyses of the arguments are here, and here.

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Kagan’s Roundup Ready and Breyer’s in a Sling

A couple sketches from the Supreme Court yesterday:Justice Kagan's opinion in Monsanto
Justice Kagan annouced the Court’s unanimous opinion supporting Monsanto’s patent rights on its herbicide resistant genetically altered Roundup Ready seed.

NYT’s Adam Liptak has the story here.

It was also Justice Breyer’s first appearance on the bench since breaking his shoulder in a bicycle mishap two weeks ago.Justice Breyer with arm in a sling

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Time for a Tricycle?

Sketch of SCOTUS bench with Justice Breyer absentJust kidding, I’m really very sorry to hear that Justice Breyer had fall from his bicycle over the weekend and broke his shoulder. Twice before he has had serious bicycle mishaps and has always climbed back in the saddle. I hope he continues to ride, and wish him a speedy recovery.

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Opinions and Arguments

A couple of sketches from today at the Supreme Court :

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The Court heard arguments in two cases where juveniles were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Both prisoners were very ably represented by Bryan Stevenson, pictured above.

The Court also announced opinions in four cases. Pictured below, clockwise from the bottom right, are Justice Sotomayor, Justice Breyer, Justice Kennedy and Justice Ginsburg reading her dissent in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland. SC120320_justices

 

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Posted in Arguments, Opinions, Supreme Court

Roberts Court Not So Business Friendly

Until recently the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts has had a reputation of being friendly to business, but in two decisions delivered today the court continues a recent trend of rulings less favorable to business.

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In the first opinion, authored by Justice Sotomayor, a unanimous Court said that stockholders could sue the makers of Zicam nasal spray.

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And in a 6-2 opinion ( Justice Kagan took no part ) Justice Breyer wrote that a worker at a plastics factory was protected from retaliatory actions.

Click here for Robert Barnes’ WaPo article.

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I stuck around to hear/watch arguments in a case,  Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri, concerning the First Amendment’s petition clause.  Some of the historical precedent cited reached back as far as Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest.   Respondent’s lawyer, Eric Schnapper :  “If you had a problem in England, if the undersheriff took your cow, you could go to the sheriff, but historically, that wasn’t called a petition.  If you went to the king, that was a petition,”

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Now that’s entertainment!

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