Meal planing software not generally patentable in the US

The United States Patent and Trade Mark Office subject matter eligibility guidelines have an interesting example of a meal planning software invention that is not patentable in the US.  

This example is interesting because many software inventions are directed to modifying human behaviour, rather than computer technology as such.  It is doubtful that many, if any, of these are now patentable.

Here is an outline of the reasons for rejection, however you might like to first review my earlier post US software patents: how to determine eligibility, which generally explains the "two step" test to determine eligibility.

The example relates to using a graphical user interface for computerised meal planning.

The invention has a user interface, a database of food objects, and a “meal builder” which displays on the user interface meals from the database. A user can change the content of the meals and view the resulting meal’s impact on customised eating goals.

The user interface functions in what can be described as a fairly standard way. The user interface displays pictures of meals so that the user can make a plan by selecting pictures of foods to mix and match foods to meet customised eating goals.

The function of the software can be generally summarised as follows. The user interface receives commands from the user and a display shows the results of an algorithm to the user.  The claim does not include any reference to the algorithm’s details, but as will be clear from the discussion below, it is doubtful in my opinion that this would have made a difference to the claims eligibility.

The first consideration in the downfall of this patent is that, with a broad analysis, the claim describes a process of meal planning which is a mental process of managing behaviour that can be performed in the human mind or by a human using a pen and paper. The US courts, and the USPTO, considers this to be the “fingerprints” for an non patentable "abstract idea".

The USPTO also considers that the other features the claim do not amount to significantly more than the abstract idea. The problem here is, that the computer features relied on, for example a user interface and the database, are well-known and routine and common to many computer systems and therefore the claim is related to no more than a generic computer. These limitations add nothing more to the abstract idea, in the USPTO's view.

The example is based on an actual court decision: Dietgoal Innovations LLC v. Bravo Media LLC, 599 Fed. Appx. 956 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 8, 2015), and so it is based on good authority. The patent at issue was U.S. Patent 6,585,516.