Patent Holder Sues Basically Anyone Who Offers Recipes Or 'Meal Planning' Online

from the damn dept

THREsq alerted us to the news of a company named DietGoal, which appears to not exist for any reason other than to sue over patents, and which has sued the TV network Bravo for creating a recipe finder website. The claim is that it violates US Patent 6,585,516 for a "method and system for computerized visual behavior analysis, training, and planning." The patent basically seems to describe an online recipe database in which "the user can use the Picture Menus to choose meals for a particular time period to correspond to a customized eating plan."

I started to look further into the lawsuit, and I realized that Bravo was not the only target of DietGoal. Not by a long shot. Last September, right before the new patent law went into effect making it difficult to bundle defendants, DietGoal sued a ton of sites -- mainly focused on restaurants (including, but not limited to, Arby's, Chick-fil-A, Dairy Queen, Dunkin' Donuts, Jack in the Box, McDonald's, Panda Express, Taco Bell, Sonic, Wendy's, Burger King, Whole Foods, Tim Hortons, Dominos and Starbucks) as well as a few non-restaurants, including Weight Watchers, Google, IAC and Hearst Communications. If you look at the docket on that one, there are a ton of "dismissals" by DietGoal, which likely means that it was successful in getting the companies to pay up. Others do appear to be fighting it and hitting back with counterclaims and questioning the validity of the patent. Some, like Dominos and Wegmans also sought to break apart the case and make DietGoal face each defendant individually in different cases. That case has also bounced around among a few different judges already.

On April 3rd, DietGoals filed an amended complaint in that original case, attempting to add in a huge list of new defendants -- including Bravo and a bunch of others (many of whom we'll discuss in a bit). On May 24th, the magistrate judge denied DietGoal's motion to file that third amended complaint with all those other parties.

That brings us up to this week, in which DietGoal filed a bunch of lawsuits against a variety of companies (those it had tried to lump into this lawsuit) -- with each one being sued individually. So... yes, there's the lawsuit against Bravo, but also suits against AllRecipes.com, CalorieKing, ConAgra (for having a product nutrition search engine on its site -- no, I'm not kidding, check the complaint), General Mills, Nestle, Nutrisystem, Food.com, SparkPeople, Time, Inc. (for RealSimple.com), WebMD and some others as well.

Basically, it looks as though the DietGoal is operating under the premise that anyone who offers recipes online should have to pay it some money. Of course, all of this should make you wonder: was a patent really needed for the sake of encouraging companies to put databases of recipes online?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Manabi (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 11:56am

    Definitely wasn't needed

    Of course, all of this should make you wonder: was a patent really needed for the sake of encouraging companies to put databases of recipes online?
    Obviously not, or DietGoal wouldn't have anyone to sue. They'd have to be out there working to convince companies to license their patent and actually put recipes online.

    Of course that would be harder, and probably not make as much money.

     

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  2.  
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    Lord Binky, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 11:56am

    I really need to get in on this patent scam stuff. So what if it fails 9/10 times, that one time more than pays for the failures and I'll I have to do is play around on google all day?

     

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  3.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 11:57am

    Does every patent lawsuit name Google just because they hope Google will throw money at them to make them go away?

    So from what I see is that someone took an idea that had existed previously, added on a computer and some computer terms and got a patent.

    Wouldn't Deal-a-Meal be prior art without a computer UI? It had a cardboard UI and vinyl choice storage.

     

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  4.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:05pm

    Prior art?

    I wonder if Usenetīs net.recipes (circa 1980) would be an adequate example of prior art?

     

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  5.  
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    Prashanth (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:27pm

    Counterproductive usage

    DietGoal, with the patent, has not used it to put up its own recipes online. It has no incentive to do so.
    Other companies, without the patent, have put up recipes online. Clearly, there was no need for the patent to incentivize such behavior.
    Therefore, as the patent is producing the exact opposite behavior as is intended by both the plaintiff and the defendant, the patent should be invalidated.
    Simple.

     

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  6.  
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    Keii (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:37pm

    This is tooootally different from looking at a menu.
    This is looking at a menu...on the internet! See? Completely different.

     

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  7.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:38pm

    Put this into the lawbooks.

    Before you can sue for patent infringement, you need to have a product or service in the marketplace that that patent covers. You also need to have attempted to succeed in that marketplace (no getting a patent, deliberately throwing out some garbage products, then suing), said attempt to be deliberated by accredited third parties.
    Without that, you can't sue.

     

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  8.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:41pm

    Re:

    As a good cynical skeptic, I must point out this would be well thought out and logical, therefore it will not occur.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward With A Unique Writing Style, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Re:

    I concur. (Regarding this being well thought out and logical and therefore not going to happen.)

    And I've had the same thought regarding patents as Rikuo just put forth.

     

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  10.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:47pm

    Re: Re:

    Sad but true.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:57pm

    Perhaps people should peruse DietFit LLC's website before jumping the gun and assuming that this scenario involves merely a patent for which there is no associated practicing entity.

    There is usually much more to stories like this than merely filing patent applications in the hope of winning the lottery.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:58pm

    had there not have been so many 'big bully' type companies that tried to bring so many law suits against so many other companies, particularly ones that had great difficulty in defending themselves, maybe these ones wouldn't be in the frame for being sued and maybe the plaintive wouldn't be so keen to sue. the easier something is made allowable and available, the easier something else will take advantage and then use it

     

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  13.  
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    Forest_GS (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 12:59pm

    Patent cases should consider whether or not publishing of the patent would be at least 50% of the cause the idea is being used by the defendants. Otherwise there's no reason for the government to support them as a monopoly.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 1:02pm

    I'm going to patent the color green. And any green I see no matter what shade I will sue! $$$$$$$$$$

     

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  15.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 1:05pm

    Re:

    IT BURNS!!!! IT BURNS!!!!!!!
    Its a little painful to look at.

    While they are offering a diet menu planning thing, how they think other sites just offering recipes or nutritional information about their products is stealing their idea seems to be a stretch.
    We show pictures of food, they show pictures of food... TOTALLY STOLE MY IDEA!

     

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  16.  
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    ch'kody (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 1:33pm

    This reminds me of...

    The current system of patents reminds me of cells and how a virus could be created to infect the mechanics of the system to basically destroy the host. The pain indeed.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 1:44pm

    Re:

    Better idea...

    Just mail out an invoice for "Patent Licensing fee - Patent # XXXXX". It still only works at about the same rate, but once they've paid it's a slam dunk if you ever do need to sue. Also saves you the costs of suing minus some scary looking letterhead, envelope and a stamp.

    Even the stamp is cheaper since you'd most likely be sending enough to qualify for bulk rate....

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 1:46pm

    A quick google search shows that, at very least, webmd had nutrition recommendations / menus in 2000, and allrecipes was up and running in 1999. Given that the patent was filled in 2002, it seems like it should be simple to have the patent revoked as obvious given the prior art, though the price of doing that may outweigh the cost of settling quickly.

     

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  19.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 1:54pm

    Re:

    Before you can sue for patent infringement, you need to have a product or service in the marketplace that that patent covers.

    While I understand this argument, I'm not convinced it really makes sense. If we believe that a patent really is necessary for disclosing how something is done, then what of, say, a university that patents something and wants to commercialize it by licensing the patent? Under your system, they're stuck unless they also build the product itself.

    There can be, in theory, a reasonable role for someone to license the patent to someone who can build it.

     

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  20.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 1:56pm

    Re:

    Perhaps people should peruse DietFit LLC's website before jumping the gun and assuming that this scenario involves merely a patent for which there is no associated practicing entity.

    DietFit LLC and DietGoal do not appear to be the same entities. It's possible that DietFit is just a licensee.

    That said, are you REALLY arguing that this patent is valid?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 2:05pm

    Re: Re:

    And what would stop patent trolls from making a a few of the product, and then just keeping it in a warehouse while suing others.

     

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  22.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 2:07pm

    Re:

    Nah, that'll never work, a judge would take one look at that patent and declare it ridiculous. Now if you changed it to 'the color green on the internet', then you might be on to something.

     

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  23.  
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    Atkray (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Re:

    Include clicking.

     

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  24.  
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    Andrew (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 2:33pm

    Can we build an infringing site in the comments section?

    How many claims does one of these sites have to infringe upon for there to be a valid claim? While I'm not an expert at reading patents, nearly all of the claims discuss a system using Picture Menus, which several of these sites don't have. (They do use pictures, but not as part of the selection process, which appears to be based on freeform text and filters.)

    Would it be sufficient to infringe, say, just claim 2?

    2. A system of computerized meal planning, comprising:

    a User Interface;
    a Database of food objects; and
    a Meal Builder, which displays on the User Interface meals from the Database, and wherein a user can change content of said meals and view the resulting meals' impact on customized eating goals.


    i.e. any website with a meal database, except for eating goals bit (which most of the defendants don't seem to offer either)

    While I'm struggling to find anything in the patent that wouldn't be obvious to someone skilled in the art (in this case, presumably a web developer who eats food), some of the other claims do at least discuss dietary planning and advice to meet weight loss goals,* but I can't see anything on the Bravo site or some others that offer this.

    Would I really infringe a patent by putting a few recipes into a database, adding some HTML with a search form and using this query?

    SELECT * FROM recipes WHERE meal="lunch" AND consideration="low carb" AND name LIKE "%steak%";

    * Though not in any particularly useful way so as to tell anyone how they actually do this.

     

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  25.  
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    Sark, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 3:05pm

    Shortsighted, greedy bastards thinking only of themselves and their short-term financial gain.

    What they ought to be doing is talking to ICE and DOJ about using the same sort of convoluted logic they used to seize the likes of Dajaz or Megaupload to shut these sites down completely.

    Imagine the audacity of companies like Nestle or Bravo thinking they can just steal someone's idea to compete in the marketplace.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 3:27pm

    Re: Re:

    The head of DietFit is the named inventor, Oliver Alabaster, of this and at least two other related patents. He is an MD who specializes in oncology and diet/health issues, and is a professor at George Washington University Medical Center in DC.

    DietGoal is one of a series of LLCs (which appear to be driven by IP) having common principals, Daniel Mitry and Timothy Salmon. Since DietGoal is relying upon Dr. Alabaster's patents, there is obviously some unspecified relationship between the three of them.

    And, no, I am not arguing that the patent is valid. The presumption of validity is not, of course, the same as a judicial declaration of validity.

     

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  27.  
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    Alessar (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 3:28pm

    Re: Definitely wasn't needed

    We need a special office of "This patent was stupid and should never been issued" that has the power to simply void these bullshit things.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 15th, 2012 @ 3:30pm

    Re: Can we build an infringing site in the comments section?

    One need infringe only one claim of a patent to be deemed an infringer.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Monkey (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 7:05pm

    Gotta say it....

    I can Haz Cheezburgr?

     

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  30.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 15th, 2012 @ 10:45pm

    Re: Gotta say it....

    Only if you don't take a picture of it and post it online.

     

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  31.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Jun 18th, 2012 @ 6:59am

    More patented homework assignments.

    I dunno. It seems like you're making one big rambling appeal to authority by listing a bunch of people's credentials in fields that aren't really related to the patent.

    This is a basic programming problem. You could employ a "database" to solve it (or not). It's the fodder for University homework assignments and basic programs printed out in 80s computer magazines.

     

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  32.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Jun 18th, 2012 @ 7:04am

    A mahogany mouse trap

    There were applications of this kind for Windows prior to the web. The concept is not new and it's not hard to replicate.

    This is a wonderful example of something that's simple enough for some college CS students to replicate given no information beyond the description of the "invention". It's the kind of thing that should get laughed out of the PTO.

     

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  33.  
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    Junk 14850, Feb 14th, 2013 @ 12:07pm

    What's internet got to do with it?

    Many comments abovce refer to web implementations. Is there something in the patent that specifies that it applies to internet/web apps only? If not, you can certainly go back to the 90's, perhaps the 80's or earlier to find apps that perform the described functions, thus establishing prior art.

     

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  34.  
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    #1Ranchcookie, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 4:07pm

    Recipe programs

    I was using a recipe program: Master Cook or something like that in the 80s. I think there are definite problems with them having a patent. I also remember taking my daughter to a dietician at an HMO and she could look up diet and recipes that she provided to us.

    If the patent was provided in 2002 than it had lots of priors that should have kept it from being issued.

     

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