AN OVERBROAD PATENT ON INVENTORY SYSTEMS - This application from Wendi Wheaton seeks to patent an inventory system that manages food based on its expiry dates! 10 minutes of your time can help narrow this US patent application before it becomes a patent.

QUESTION - Have you seen anything that was published before Nov 14, 2011 that discusses:

A food inventory system comprising: a microprocessor connected to a data storage device; means for entry and removal of food items or recipes; means for display; assigning a food item a weighted value correlated with the time until food spoilage for said food item; categorizing each food item entered as refrigerator, freezer, or pantry.

If you've ever seen anything like this before, please submit evidence of prior art as an answer to this question -- one piece of prior art per answer. We welcome multiple answers from a single individual.

TITLE: Method and Device for Expiration Date Weighted Food Inventory System and Meal Planner

Summary: manages data on current food supply taking into consideration its expiry dates and provides recommendations for shopping for new food and consuming existing food

  • Publication Number: US20130138656
  • Assignee: Wendi Wheaton
  • Prior Art Date: Seeking prior Art predating Nov 14, 2011
  • Open for Challenge at USPTO: Open through Nov 30, 2013

Claim 1 requires each and every step below:

A food inventory system comprising:

  1. a microprocessor connected to a data storage device;
  2. means for entry and removal of food items or recipes;
  3. means for display;
  4. assigning a food item a weighted value correlated with the time until food spoilage for said food item;
  5. categorizing each food item entered as refrigerator, freezer, or pantry.

In English this means:

managing supply of food taking into account food expiration date

This looks like a generic inventory system, just for food. Expiration dates are very common with chemicals, food, fuel, other supplies.

Good prior art would be evidence of a system that did each and every one of these steps prior to Dec 6, 2011.

What is good prior art? Please see our FAQ.

Want to help? Please vote or comment on submissions below. We welcome you to post your own request for prior art on other questionable US Patent Applications.

  • This seems to have been written by the applicant herself. The claims have an un-allowable combination of apparatus and method within a single claim.
    – George White
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 0:24

4 Answers 4


Please be nice, as I've only just discovered Ask Patents, so I'm sure I'm trampling over several established rules, but this concept reminded me of a story I heard on the run-up to Y2K, about Marks & Spencers in the late '90s throwing out food with an expiry date after the year 2000, because their computer system identified it as being almost 100 years old.

A quick Google found me this:


which references this:


which in turn references a document called 'United Airlines, Flight Talk Network, February 1998', which I can't find online (although I haven't looked particularly extensively). I'm not sure how important the provenance of the information is, given that the second link above is dated 1998, which obviously pre-dates the patent application, and (I hope) shows that it is not novel, whether or not the actual anecdote is true.

The relevant passage from the second page is:

The calculation problem explains why the computer system at Marks & Spencer department store in London recently destroyed tons of food during the process of doing a long term forecast. The computer read 2002 as 1902. Instead of four more years of shelf life, the computer calculated that this food was ninety-six years old. It ordered it thrown out.

Hopefully this is enough information, but again, apologies in advance if I've misunderstood the requirements.

  • Thanks for your post. The story you link to is about rejecting a shipment at a receiving dock that the computer thinks is already too old. The patent application has to do with a much subtler case, planning recipes for future consumption based on the up coming expiration of things already in inventory. This is not "reject if it is old".
    – George White
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 18:25
  • Ah, sorry, you're right of course - that will teach me to re-read the question before I post an answer. Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 21:31
  • Welcome to the site and please keep posting!
    – George White
    Commented Sep 7, 2013 at 0:11

I understand that this system should be used for households but every major food logistic system stores expiration date, location and quantity and notifies if products are due to expire. It uses microprocessors and data storage units.

Medical (Sep 2011): http://www.google.com/patents/WO2011115676A1?cl=en Peoplesoft (Oracle,2000): http://docs.oracle.com/cd/B28728_01/jded/acrobat/xeeaim.pdf


Junhua Gu discusses a "smart pantry" in her Georgia Tech Master's Thesis (abstract) Her thesis explicitly mentions recording expiration dates in section 6.3.2: "users use a special scanner to scan the items and the system automatically updates items related information such as name, category, manufacturer, in-stock date, expiration date, quantity, function, nutrition facts and etc."

The paper also explicitly describes a electronic data inventory storage system in section 6.3: "The system also collects and stores grocery data for organizing, quick locating and inventory tracking".


There are, of course, lots of things other than food which require this type of management. One of the less obvious ones would be safety critical employees such as train drivers.

Typical safety rules on a modern railway require that a given driver spends no more than a few hours continuously in charge of a train, where "continuously" means "without an authorised absence from duty of prescribed (substantial) length". Trains are often delayed for any number of reasons, so during or following a disruption event, there are usually a number of drivers operating trains who will not be able to reach their intended changeover point before their hours "expire".

It is then necessary to get "fresh" drivers into position to take over these trains, to avoid further disruption being caused by a train, halted on the line, that has nobody available to drive it. Such disruption would at minimum involve "tipping out" the passengers at the next station, at which point the "expired" driver would be authorised to drive the train to the nearest stabling siding, out of the way. (The time limits are slightly more relaxed - but only slightly - for trains running otherwise than in service.)

Drivers are typically rostered with the aid of a Fatigue Risk Management System, which would have a design very similar to what the patent describes, replacing certain terms specific to the food industry with others specific to drivers of trains. An incident investigation report published by the RAIB in August 2011 indicates that such systems were in common use in the railway industry by the date of the incident, which occurred in August 2010. (The one-year interval between incident and report is typical for all but the most complex investigations.)

The task is complicated by the fact that the fresh driver taking over the train must be qualified to drive the particular type of traction, and must also (in some systems) have specific knowledge of the track he is due to drive it over; this is analogous to requiring green peppers for a particular recipe, rather than red meat.

Closely related to this is the need to perform regular maintenance on railway vehicles, although the deadlines for maintenance are typically "softer" than for working hours. Computers have kept track of rail vehicle movements and schedules at least since British Rail introduced TOPS circa 1970; BR TOPS was itself imported via Canada from the Southern Pacific railway, who developed the software in the 1960s.

This is insufficient to invalidate the patent directly, but it could bolster an obviousness charge against it.

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