I don't think anyone understands what SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) means by "abstract", including SCOTUS. From what I can tell, it's like Justice Potter Stewart's famous quote about obscenity: "I know it when I see it" [Wikipedia].
It remains to be seen if lower courts start tossing out software patents on the basis of "too abstract". My guess is that more cases will be appealed to SCOTUS and the "software patent tax" on technology products will keep rising. When SCOTUS gets tired of hearing yet another abstract patent case, then they'll come up with a reasonable test.
There's this old parlor game where you add 'in bed' to advice from fortune cookies ("look for new opportunities"), and everyone has a good laugh. I found it only briefly amusing. It seems to me that the SCOTUS is essentially saying that just adding a similar qualifier ("on a computer") is not sufficient to make an idea novel or patentable.
Susan, I think your concern identifies the problem. I don't think anyone, even the Supreme Court, knows what "abstract" means. Further, even if we did know what "abstract" is, at what level of abstraction should we be looking?
Please do not forget that software patents will mainly kill the smaller companies. They simply don't have the power to protect their IP. Apart from this you have to consider that software pantents certainly will delay engineering processing and innovation. Hardware patents is another ballgame. You need to protect your physical IP, otherwise others will copy it. The same problem arises about the protection, but with hardware -at least- you can find people that understand your issues and are able to help you to protect your IP. (no cure no pay, etc)
What I really really don't understand is why copyright is protected for such a long time. Even after 70 years the family of the former owner can claim. Compare this with the 12 years of hardware patent duration. I think that it would be a good idea if all go back to at most 10 years. And no software patents because of the sillyness of it, seen a few, I laughed my pants off... what a b*llsh*t....
Navelpluis wrote: What I really really don't understand is why copyright is protected for such a long time.
The answer is pretty simple: if Mickey Mouse and Superman become public domain, anyone can use them as characters as shown in this brilliant Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon by Ruben Bolling. He also created this wonderful cartoon, in which the League of Public Domain Properties tries to rescue a victim from the chains of death-plus-70-years (for now) copyright.