To Promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts


Absurd legal threat of the day:

Back in 2000, David Roth had one of those "eureka" moments that are the stuff of American entreprenurial legend. After spotting a box of Cocoa Puffs hidden behind the desk of a Wall Street executive, Roth dreamed up a retail business that would sell cereal all the time. He and a partner opened the first Cereality in Tempe, Arizona, on the campus of Arizona State University. College students flocked; Roth followed up with stores in Philadelphia and Chicago; and news outlets from Time to CNN fawned.

But as is so often the case with good ideas, Roth wasn't the only one to have it. Across the country, Rocco Monteleone was getting set to open Bowls, a cereal cafe in Gainesville, Florida, (near the University of Florida) when he found out that Cereality had beaten him to the punch. OK, he figured, no harm, no foul: It's America. Anyone can open a restaurant selling cereal. Right?

Well, kind of. In May, Monteleone received a letter from Cereality's attorney warning him that he may be in violation of a patent application the company had filed for its "methods and system" of selling cereal. These included: "displaying and mixing competitively branded food products" and adding "a third portion of liquid."

You'll have to read the whole story to get to the happy ending, but it's worth it—it's a pretty good report on the ways business method patents can stifle innovation.