Does IBM's new patent spell trouble for health apps?

By Brian Dolan
04:00 am
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BodyMedia Fit ArmbandAbout 12 years ago engineers at IBM began to sketch out an idea for a weight loss application that rewarded employees for eating healthy food, according to a recent report in the New York Times. The article follows the story of the patent IBM secured late last year for this long-awaited healthy eating rewards application.

One important detail that the Times seems to have missed is that within a few weeks of IBM receiving the patent for its dieting program last December, the company inked a deal with popular fitness device maker BodyMedia. The deal with IBM will add a coaching element to the fitness tracking devices that BodyMedia offers its users.

"Using both historical and current BodyMedia data, as well as user input, the feedback engine tracks each user’s daily calorie burn, food intake and sleep patterns, and then compares the results to their weight loss goals," the companies wrote in their partnership announcement. "By being able to analyze this fitness data, the new technology helps users make sense of this information and provides personalized feedback to help them stay on top of their fitness objectives."

BodyMedia aims to add the coaching elements from IBM sometime this year and make the service part of its annual subscription package.

Michael Paolini, the inventor of the patent who works at IBM in Austin, Texas, mentions the deal with BodyMedia during a video interview that IBM Labs published to YouTube around the same time that the two companies announced they were working together. Curiously though, the BodyMedia announcement states that the IBM weight loss program is based on IBM Decision Management, which was "originally developed to help businesses and organizations streamline their day to day operations... [and] provides personalized services for clients across a wide range of industries, including fitness (Athletes Performance), airlines (British Airways), finance (VISA Europe), manufacturing (Caterpillar) and retail (Yves Rocher)."

The New York Times writes that "Paolini and his colleagues were inspired by the Honda Insight, a hybrid car that gives drivers immediate feedback on how their driving is affecting the car’s gas mileage," when creating the weight loss application. "Seeing that feedback immediately, they reasoned, motivated people to change how they drove," the Times reported.

Given the number of fitness and diet tracking apps currently elbowing each other for marketshare -- could this lead to the next spate of mobile health patent lawsuits? Either way, it seems likely BodyMedia will be the first of many health partners for the company.

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