The single-serve coffee industry is brewing up a set of interesting legal issues relating to the interplay of patent and antitrust law. Thanks in no small part to a seemingly well-managed portfolio of patents covering single-serve brewers and accompanying “K-cups” (i.e., disposable pods filled with pre-packaged ground coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc.), Keurig has led the single-serve coffee industry and arguably achieved “household name” status. Keurig’s patents have allowed it in some ways to exercise a “legal monopoly” over products that fall within the scope of its patents– but patents do not last forever. How does Keurig maintain its leadership in the market once some or all of its patents expire? What happens when competitors cleverly design around Keurig’s patents and sell similar (but not identical) products for use in Keurig’s brewers? Does Keurig surrender its market share, or does it fight for it? Keurig has chosen to fight, but at least one competitor says it has done so anti-competitively in violation of federal and state antitrust laws.
March 11, 2014
“DUMB Starbucks” made national news as a viral sensation that the owner claimed was a legitimate, blatant copy of the distinctive and famous Starbucks logo. In this business litigation update, Faruki Ireland & Cox discusses the use of a potential “parody defense” in trademark litigation and whether “DUMB Starbucks” was a SMART idea.
March 7, 2014
While waiting my turn in line at a Starbucks in Southern California recently, I was eyeing the holiday-oriented merchandise that the coffee shop had on display. Although snowflake-adorned coffee mugs for sale in semi-tropical locations are always diverting, I was actually more interested in a piece of equipment that Starbucks was selling: a single-cup coffee machine. Was it a Keurig? No. Did it use Keurig pods? No (it used pods that were smaller, but otherwise virtually identical to Keurig pods). At first glance, did it appear to improve upon or “design around” the now famous Keurig coffee machine? Not really.
December 19, 2012