The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether computer programs, or inventions that depend on computer programming, may be patented.

The court said it will study a pair of appeals by the government aimed at blocking patents for two computer-linked inventions.

Government lawyers argue in each that the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals has wrongly applied pass Supreme Court decisions that say mathematical formulas and "intellectual concepts" are not patentable.

In other actions yesterday, the court:

Ruled that states may not impose their own regulations to prevent racial bias in lending by federally insured savings and loan associations.

The justices unanimously upheld a ruling that bars California from applying a 1977 state law to those lending institutions. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had said last Sept. 26 that federal law pre-empts state regulation.

Outside of California, the decision is binding on Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, and could be cited as precedent in challenges to regulatory attempts by other states.

Agreed to decide the scope of the lawyer-client privilege when the client is a corporation.

At stake is whether Upjohn Co. must surrender certain documents to the Internal Revenue Service, which is investigating $4.4 million in alleged bribes and kickbacks made by the pharmaceutical firm to government officials in 136 nations.

In a case of enormous practical impact for business and the legal profession, the justices also agreed to decide just when a lawyer's work product" -- notes and like -- may be withheld from an IRS summons.

Upjohn filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission generated IRS interest in the tax consequences of the allegations.

Gave the government clearance to strengthen the buying public's resistence to Enclopaedia Britannica's door-to-door sellers.

The justices left intact a Federal Trade Commission order requiring specific terms that their purpose is selling encyclopedias.

Agreed to consider whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may disclose information obtained during an investigation of discrimination charges to lawyers for those bringing the claims.

Refused to reinstate an invalidated merger between two producers of recycled lead, RSR Corporation and Quemetco Inc.

Turned down an appeal by J. Miichael Carter, a former vice president of Franklin National Bank who was convicted in a scheme of making false entries in bank records that concealed more than $3 million in operating losses.