Federal Court Dismisses Time-Tracking Patent Complaint


A federal court in the Southern District of New York has granted a motion to dismiss a complaint for patent infringement because the patent was directed to patent-ineligible subject matter.

Realtime Tracker, Inc. v. RELX, Inc. involves a patent for billable timekeeping. Plaintiff Realtime holds rights in U.S. Patent No. 8,229,810 for the "Realtime Billable Timekeeper Method, System And Apparatus," which it describes as a "novel computer system, operation and function" for tracking billable hours for professionals in client service fields.

Realtime's claimed invention comprises a "specific, structured front end user interface, i.e., a real-time billable timekeeper entry box" and "back end computer processing to automatically detect time and record billable time for an individual on a task by task basis."

The claimed invention enables (1) "detecting opening of a document, initiation of a client-service or initiation of a telephone call," (2) "generating an individual timekeeper entry box configured with an entry for a personal code and a second entry for a client identifier," and (3) "contemporaneously tracking time associated with the personal code and the client identifier of the document in use, the client-service or the telephone call on task-by-task and client-by-client bases."

Among other features, the timekeeper entry box includes a "time computation feature" that "will automatically start upon creation of a document by the professional or upon commencement of a Internet-based task such as E-mail or a research session" and "will automatically cease upon closing of the LAN document, upon sending, saving or closing the e-mail, and upon cessation of the research session or other task by closing out of the session."

Realtime claimed that RELX, doing business as LexisNexis, infringed this patent with its "Juris Suite Timer" software for lawyers.

The Juris Suite time entry screen:

uses a computer-generated timekeeper entry box to automatically track on a real-time basis one or more professional's billable time by personal code and client identifier corresponding to said employee's activities generating documents, performing services and/or participating in telephone or video conference calls on a task by task basis, including in seriatim or simultaneous multitasking for one or more clients.

The court noted that

Under 35 U.S.C. § 101, patentable inventions include "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof." The Patent Act provides that all patents are "presumed valid," and "[e]ach claim of a patent (whether in independent, dependent, or multiple dependent form) [is] presumed valid independently of the validity of other claims." 35 U.S.C. § 282(a). "In light of this presumption of validity, [t]he party challenging the validity of a patent bears the burden of proving invalidity by clear and convincing evidence."

The court also noted that "Whether a claim is drawn to patent-eligible subject matter under § 101 is a threshold inquiry."

The Supreme Court has "long held that [§ 101] contains an important implicit exception"—"[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable."

However, “an invention is not rendered ineligible for patent simply because it involves an abstract concept." Rather, a court "must distinguish between patents that claim the building blocks of human ingenuity and those that integrate the building blocks into something more, thereby transforming them into a patent-eligible invention.”

Abstract ideas include "fundamental economic practice[s]” such as "the concept of intermediated settlement," and methods of "organizing human activity," such as hedging to mitigate financial risk.

Fundamental economic and conventional business practices are often found to be abstract ideas, even if performed on a computer. It’s not enough to merely improve a fundamental practice or abstract process by using a computer as a tool.

Under the test set out in the US Supreme Court case of Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int'l, 573 U.S. 208, 216 (2014), if a court determines that patent claims draw upon a patent-ineligible concept, in the next step the court "search[es] for an inventive concept—i.e., an element or combination of elements that is sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the [ineligible concept] itself."

A computer implementation, on its own, doesn’t "supply the necessary inventive concept.”

For example, the Supreme Court found patent-ineligible a "claimed method requir[ing] the use of a computer to create electronic records, track multiple transactions, and issue simultaneous [automated] instructions" for the purpose of intermediated settlement.

RELX claimed that the Realtime patent was invalid as a matter of law because it claims an abstract idea, and simply "automates" the "routine business practice" of tracking time spent on billable client-related tasks by "using a general, all-purpose computer."

Under step one of the Alice test, RELX argued that the patent claims are drawn to "keeping track of time spent on billable client-related tasks," and that this "longstanding business practice" constitutes an abstract idea.

Under step two, RELX argued that the patent claims don’t transform this abstract idea into a patent-eligible application, because the claims simply implement the idea by using "some unspecified, generic computer."

The court agreed, saying “In essence, the Patent recites the abstract concept of timekeeping for compensation" used by professionals in various fields, including lawyers, accountants, and architects.

“Whether by quill or by computer,” noted the court, “humans have undertaken such timekeeping for client or customer benefit for centuries.”

The court noted that in the case of Weisner v. Google LLC, 51 F.4th 1073 (Fed. Cir. 2022) the Federal Circuit found that claims for "creating a digital travel log" were directed to an abstract idea.

Similarly here, said the court, the claims at issue are directed to the abstract idea of recording human activities. “The automation of this work through generic computing device, without more, does not ‘shift their focus away from the core idea,’ … of keeping time as to billable tasks.”

The court rejected Realtime’s argument that its patent covers the contemporaneous timekeeping of tasks performed serially or simultaneously, for multiple clients, and by one or more individuals. Said the court, “It is not clear why such timekeeping could not be performed by a human being (or two) using his or her mind or basic tools such as a pen, paper, and basic timer or clock.”

The court concluded that although the claimed invention could reduce the time a professional spends recording and reporting billable hours, freeing up time for other pursuits, that wasn’t enough to satisfy § 101.

Categories: Patents