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Judge Engelmayer Finds Claims for Timekeeping to be an Abstract Idea: “Whether by Quill or by Computer, Humans Have Undertaken Such Timekeeping . . . for Centuries”

On March 7, 2023, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer ruled that claims directed to computerized methods and systems for “timekeeping of tasks on a document-by-document, telephone call-by-telephone call, and client service-by-client service basis” are ineligible for patenting under 35 U.S.C. § 101. 

Plaintiff Realtime Tracker alleged that automated timekeeping software in the “Juris Suite” product of defendant RELX (d/b/a LexisNexis) infringes the asserted patent.  RELX moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing both: (1) that the patent claims were directed to an unpatentable abstract idea under Section 101, and (2) that the complaint failed to state a plausible claim for relief under Rule 12(b)(6). 

Judge Engelmayer granted the motion on the first of these two grounds.  Under step one of the Supreme Court’s Alice test for patent eligibility, the Court ruled that the patent claims were directed to “the abstract concept of timekeeping for compensation.”  Specifically, the claims required “(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.’”  Realtime Tracker argued that these features provided “‘a specific improvement to computer systems’” that “‘fix[es] a specific problem in the prior art.’”  The Court disagreed, finding that the “ostensibly novel aspects of the claimed invention” were “‘recited only at the broadest, functional level, without explaining how [each function] is accomplished, let alone providing a technical means for performing that function.’”  Moreover, the Court noted that “whether by quill or by computer, humans have undertaken such timekeeping . . . for centuries,” which triggered preemption concerns and confirmed the claims are directed to an abstract idea.

Judge Engelmayer also found there was no “inventive concept” at step two of the Alice test.  The asserted patent conceded that the claimed methods and systems could be “implemented on ‘[a]ny computer device’ and ‘in software or hardware or both’” using “various computer components, including a processor, RAM, ROM, clock, and input/output devices.”  As such, there was no “‘assertedly inventive programming,’” “‘nonconventional computer, network, or display components,’” or “non-conventional and non-generic arrangement of known, conventional pieces.’”  There was also no “inventive concept sufficient to ‘transform’ the abstract idea of timekeeping of billable tasks into ‘into a patent-eligible application.’”

The case is Realtime Tracker, Inc. v. RELX, Inc., No. 21 Civ. 8815 (PAE) (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 07, 2023)