Stupid Patent of the Month: Using A Computer To Count Calories

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
June 30, 2017

This month’s stupid patent, like many stupid patents before it, simply claims the idea of using a computer for basic calculations. U.S. Patent No. 6,817,863 (the ’863 patent) is titled “Computer program, method, and system for monitoring nutrition content of consumables and for facilitating menu planning.” It claims the process of using a computer to track nutrition information like calorie or vitamin intake. It is difficult to think of a more basic and trivial use for a computer.

The ’863 patent is owned by a patent troll called Dynamic Nutrition Solutions LLC. Dynamic Nutrition filed a lawsuit this month in the Eastern District of Texas accusing Australian company Fatsecret of infringing the ’863 patent. Dynamic Nutrition had filed four other lawsuits. Consistent with a pattern of nuisance litigation, each of those earlier suits settled very quickly.

What “invention” does the ’863 patent purport to cover? Claim 1 of the patent is reproduced in full below (with comments in brackets):

A computer program comprising a combination of code segments stored in a computer-readable memory and executable by a processor to provide nutrition content information related to consumables, the computer program comprising:

a code segment operable to receive and store an input related to consumption of consumables, and to associate the input with a calender [sic] date [i.e.program a computer to track daily food intake]; and

a code segment operable to generate an interactive display screen, wherein the interactive display screen includes— [i.e. include some kind of user interface]

one or more lists of consumables and related nutrition content information, and [i.e. list food options and nutrition information]

a summary section of past consumption of consumables. [i.e. list past food intake]

In other words, program a computer to help people keep track of meals and calorie or vitamin intake.

The application for Dynamic Nutrition’s patent was filed on June 11, 2001. By that time, computers had been around for decades and there was nothing remotely surprising or innovative about programing a computer to keep track of data—whether it be nutrition data or units shipped or accounts receivable or whatever. Nevertheless, the Patent Office takes an extremely rigid approach to whether or not a patent application is obvious. This means that companies often get patents on common sense ideas (like taking photos against white background or filming a yoga class). 

Read the full post at the Electronic Frontier Foundation