Judge Engelmayer
Judge Engelmayer ()

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

Several defendants opted to settle, including Scripps Networks Interactive and chicken chain El Pollo Loco Inc. They may regret doing so. On Tuesday, Southern District Judge Paul Engelmayer (See Profile) in Manhattan ruled in DietGoal Innovations v. Bravo Media, 13-cv-8391, that DietGoal’s patent is invalid, concluding that it covers an impermissibly abstract idea under Section 101 of the Patent Act.

Engelmayer heavily cited last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International, 13-298, which found that the use of a computer to implement an abstract idea doesn’t overcome Section 101′s patentability guidelines. Engelmayer 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, Engelmayer’s decision could 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 said 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 could mean an end to nearly 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.

Eric Buether, DietGoal’s lawyer and a partner at Buether Joe & Carpenter in Dallas, told the New York Law Journal that he disagreed with the decision and he plans to appeal. He said the invention applies an idea in a particularized way that is novel and deserves patent protection.

“We think Judge Engelmayer, with all due respect, got it wrong,” he said. “We believe that he misapplied the recent Supreme Court decision in Alice.”

“We simply will appeal this ruling and we think it deserves review by the federal circuit,” he added. “This is a very complex and somewhat abstract area of the law that judges have been confounded by for decades, so the debate goes on.”