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F45 Training takes legal action against Body Fit Training over alleged patent infringement
Team-based, functional training giant F45 has commenced legal action in the Federal Court against Melbourne-based Body Fit Training over an alleged patent infringement, aiming to protect its innovation patents relating the management of its franchises through a central computer system.
With many of F45's functional fitness workouts run remotely with a virtual trainer leading exercises on a screen, F45 HQ also sends instructions to franchisees’ computer systems, advising on shedules and configurations.
Having patented this system as a 'business scheme', F45 is now alleging Body Fit Training and its founder and joint Chief Executive, Cameron Falloon, are breaching the patent by using a similar system.
Under Body Fit’s operating model, each Body Fit franchisee is provided with a main studio computer and a Mac Mini with a preinstalled studio software application and exercise file database. Timetables and exercises are periodically communicated to the studio computers from the Body Fit Administration Portal.
Challenging Body Fit Training - which has studios situated in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and South Australia - over apparently using a central server to remotely configure and operate its studios, F45 is looking to protect its two Australian Innovation Patents entitled 'Remote configuration and operation of fitness studios from a central server'.
Instituting legal proceedings for breach of the patents on 1st November, it is not yet clear whether F45 will prove successful in proving breaches of its patent to the Federal Court.
An initial court judgement in the case - F45 Training Pty Ltd v Body Fit Training Company Pty Ltd  FCA 1911 - from 18th November and in case management orders made by Justice John Nicholas on 3rd December 2019, ruled that F45 should pay the legal costs of Body Fit Training in producing documents requested by F45 in connection with possible legal proceedings (preliminary discovery) and for the filing of an amended Statement of Claim and Defences.
F45 had wanted Body Fit Training to produce relevant documents/computer files which contained information as to its methods and processes to F45 to allow it to determine if there was in fact any infringement before it instituted legal proceedings against Body Fit Training.
Body Fit Training's defence
Indicated in the 18th November 2019 decision, and in the orders of 3rd December, Body Fit Training will defend the proceedings on the basis that it does not:
1. Rely on “periodically retrieving, by a server ... a studio information program file” which is an essential feature or integer of the claims of the Patents. Instead, our client's system of operations requires a session timetable file to be manually and selectively extracted by an administrator when it is required;
2. Include the step of “communicating, by the server to a studio computer ... the retrieved studio information program file” which is an essential feature or integer of the claims of the Patents. Instead, the extracted timetables are manually sent by an administrator to studios as email attachments; and
3. Include the step of “configuring the exercise stations of the particular studio dependent upon the received studio information program file” which is an essential feature or integer of the claims of the Patents. In our client's system of operations, the timetables do not include any directions with regard to layout or configuration of any studios as that is left up to each individual franchisee.
F45's second patent, the ‘429 Patent’, is to protect – computer implemented method for configuring and operating one or more fitness studios each comprising a plurality of exercise stations in an open studio environment at which users perform associated exercise routines, each exercise station having an associated display, the method comprising the steps of:
1. Periodically retrieving, by a server from a database, a studio information program file for a particular studio for a specified period, from a pre-prepared multi-period fitness library comprising a succession of studio information program files; wherein the studio information program file that is retrieved for a current period is different from a studio information program file that was retrieved for a previous period, thereby providing periodic variation of exercise programs;
2. Communicating, by the server to a studio computer associated with the particular studio, the retrieved studio information program file over a communications network;
3. Receiving, by the studio computer, the communicated studio information program file;
4. Configuring the exercise stations dependent upon the received studio information program file; and
5. Communicating, by the studio computer to the exercise station displays, dependent upon the received studio information program file, station directions to users exercising at the stations for performing an exercise.
The case returns to court on 19th March 2020 when it is expected that orders will be made for the serving of evidence. After the evidence is filed and served, a hearing date will be set for the a liability hearing – possibly at the end of 2020.
The type of patent F45 holds is known as an innovation patent, which require a lower standard of inventiveness than regular patents and do not have to be examined to be granted.
Innovation patents are enforceable until they are examined, which usually only happens if they are challenged, and they commonly do not hold up under this scrutiny.
With patent law a very technical area of law, a view obtained by Australasian Leisure Management suggests that the case "taps into two debates in the intellectual property law community; whether innovation patents are legitimate - there are frequent calls for their abolition - and whether you can patent computer-based tools that do a business process people could otherwise do themselves."
Australasian Leisure Management Publisher Nigel Benton comments that if F45 is successful in its action, it "would have implications for any fitness business with 'remote configuration and operation of fitness studios from a central server'.”
Click here to view the judgement.
Main image shows F45 owner Rob Deutsch (right), with actor Mark Wahlberg, who became an investor in the company earlier this year after a sale process run by Deutsche Bank. Supplied.
Editor's note/disclaimer: Information in this news item is in summary form, current at the time of publication. The contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular matters.
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7th June 2019 - F45 Training takes on direct operations of Gold Coast facility
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19th March 2019 - Hollywood star Mark Wahlberg buys stake in F45 fitness franchise
17th January 2019 - Research shows HIIT training as more than another fitness fad
8th November 2018 - F45 launches new model for youth and over sixties
21st August 2018 - F45 opens London base to drive European expansion
28th July 2017 - F45 becomes Australia’s fastest growing fitness studio network
21st July 2017 - KX Pilates makes a stand on sham contracting
22nd September 2016 - Snap Fitness threatens legal action over reporting of Futsalroo sacking
25th November 2015 - Lismore gym ordered to pay $300,000 in damages to woman who tripped
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