Risk Analysis as Intellectual Property

Say what?

I was mind-boggled to read today that the U.S. Supreme Court currently has under review a patent claim involving a risk management system that includes Monte Carlo simulation. According to a patent law blog, Bernard Bilski’s application was for a method of managing consumption risk in commodity trading.  In order to be "patentable subject matter," an invention (which can include a method) must be useful, novel and non-obvious.  

 
Certainly the application meets the first criterion.   Risk analysis is useful and widely used.   But I wonder how many of us, dear readers, would consider the use of Monte Carlo simulation a new or non-obvious approach to operations risk management–especially since the strategy of using commodity trading as a hedge against risk has been recognized for years.
 
Perhaps in an effort to maintain wide applicability, the claim does not mention the development of software or computer hardware.  It just describes the method.   
 
Mr. Bilski first applied for this patent in 1996 and received a "final" rejection in 2000.  

How, nine years later, has this patent case has reached the Supreme Court–I keep thinking there must be something more to the case.  Also, I keep returning to the fact that the men who originally developed this intellectual property, John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam, could never have patented it because they came up with it while they were employed by the U.S. Government.    

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