In one of the first decisions applying the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Internt’l, 573 U.S. __ (2014) (which held that basic business methods may not be patented, even if computers are used to apply them), Judge Englemayer of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York invalidated a patent claiming the abstract idea of meal planning under 35 U.S.C. § 101 on summary judgment. A copy of the decision can be found here: Dietgoal Innovations LLC v. Bravo Media LLC, No. 13 Civ. 8391 (S.D.N.Y. 7/8/2014).
The case involved a process for computerized meal planning: “in essence, it recites a computer program that allows the user to create meals from a database of food objects according to his or her preferences and dietary goals, to change those meals by adding or subtracting food objects, and to view the dietary impact of changes to those meals on a visual display.” The Court held that the patent recites “nothing more than the abstract concept of selecting meals for the day, according to one’s particular dietary goals and food preferences,” which is “surely a ‘long prevalent’ practice” and is “at least as longstanding as the economic practices of risk-hedging (invalidated in Bilski) and intermediated settlement (invalidated in Alice).” Since the patent “does not recite any specialized formula or method for implementing the ‘well known’ process of meal planning” it “is not the kind of ‘discovery’ that § 101 was designed to protect.”
Having determined that the patent claims were directed to an abstract idea, the Court next considered whether the claims contained an “inventive concept” that was capable of transforming the abstract idea into a patent-eligible application of that idea. Applying the reasoning of Alice Corp, the Court held that “the claims of the ‘516 Patent do no more than “simply instruct the practitioner to implement the abstract idea . . . on a generic computer; they thus do not contain the requisite ‘inventive concept’ necessary to limit the scope of the claims to a patent-eligible application.” In particular, the patent’s steps that included “(1) preparing a database of meals that meet the user’s preferences; (2) choosing meals for a particular day from the Picture Menus; and (3) deciding whether or not to change one or more of the meals that the user has selected for that day, and using the Meal Builder, allowing the user to visualize those changes and the resulting impact on his or her nutritional goals” were all conventional computer tasks that could be performed by a generic computer and “are far more ‘routine’ and ‘conventional’ than the computerized applications of the economic concepts invalidated in Bilski and Alice.” The Court held that “[t]hese computerized elements, taken separately, do nothing to ‘transform’ the nature of the claim from the mental process of meal planning into a novel method or unique application of that idea, and thus are insufficient to render the claims of the ‘516 Patent patent-eligible.”
Today’s decision is just the first of many such decisions that we will see in the coming weeks and months applying the Supreme Court’s renewed scrutiny for computer-implemented software and business method patents that are directed to patent-ineligible concepts.