U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer. (Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi)

For three years the patent holder DietGoal Innovations has hounded dozens of food and media companies in courts all over the country, alleging that everyone from NBCUniversal’s Bravo Media unit to Dunkin’ Donuts infringed its patent for a system of computerized meal planning.

Several defendants have opted to settle, including Scripps Networks Interactive and chicken chain El Pollo Loco Inc. Now they may wish they’d held on. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Paul Englemayer in Manhattan ruled that DietGoal’s patent is invalid, concluding that it covers an impermissibly abstract idea under Section 101 of the Patent Act.

Englemayer heavily cited last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International, which found that the use of a computer to implement an abstract idea doesn’t overcome Section 101′s patentability guidelines. Englemayer wrote that using a computer to help select meals or calculate the dietary impact of “swapping out French fries for broccoli” didn’t transform these “conventional and quotidian tasks.”

Barring a successful appeal, Englemayer’s decision spells the end of DietGoal’s case against Bravo, which is represented by lawyers at Klarquist Sparkman. DietGoal had accused Bravo of infringement for offering recipes online from chefs on its hit show “Top Chef.”

Klarquist Sparkman’s J. Christopher Carraway told us Tuesday that the ruling is “a pretty straightforward application of the Alice decision.”

“The decision falls in line with a bunch of recent Federal Circuit cases that say a computer is just not enough to transform an abstract concept into a patentable subject,” Carraway said. His firm also represents Time Inc. and the Meredith Corporation in two other cases brought by DietGoal that are pending in Manhattan.

The Bravo ruling spells trouble for close to 20 DietGoal cases pending in the District of Columbia, the Western District of Oklahoma, the Eastern District of Texas and the Eastern District of Virginia. Federal Circuit Judge William Bryson is overseeing one of the largest remaining cases in U.S. district court in Marshall, Texas. The defense line-up in that case includes Fish & Richardson for Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and King & Spalding for Tyson Foods Inc.

We reached out to DietGoal’s lawyer, Eric Buether at Buether Joe & Carpenter in Dallas, but didn’t immediately hear back.