U.S. Supreme Court justices from across the spectrum voiced skepticism Monday about whether intangible business methods and other innovations untethered to machines deserved patent protection. The comments, some of which bordered on the derisive, came in the long-awaited argument in Bilski v. Kappos, touted by some as the most important patent case in decades.

The case involves a patent application by Pittsburgh businessmen Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw for a way to help utility companies and their customers to regularize costs by considering factors of supply, demand, and weather. No justice who spoke seemed to view the process as patent-eligible, but it was not certain that a vote against the Bilski-Warsaw patent would sweep away patents for computer software or medical diagnostics, as some have feared.

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