Intellectual Property

The Coming Lockdown on Coffee K-Cups



Keurig is setting itself up to attempt a type of coffee "DRM" on the pods used in its coffee-making machines, according to a report from Techdirt. Keurig's next-gen machines would be unable to interact with third-party coffee pods, thus locking customers into buying only the Keurig-branded K-cups or those of approved partners.

The single-cup coffee brewers made by Keurig (owned by Green Mountain Coffee) spurred a rush by coffee brands into the single-cup-pod trade. The K-Cup patent expired in 2012, and prior to that, Green Mountain bought up many of its competitors, including Tully's Coffee Corporation and Timothy's Coffees. Competitors continue to sell K-Cups, often at a 15- to 25 percent markdown from Green Mountain's own pods, according to a lawsuit filed against Green Mountain by TreeHouse Foods.

The best part of waking up? That IP in your cup!

As Casey Johnston writes at Ars Technica (where the above story appears):

Green Mountain plans to launch "Keurig 2.0" this fall, a new set of machines that will only interact with Green-Mountain-approved pods. There is no documentation showing how Green Mountain will control this. But if Sony is any precedent, it seems like maintaining control over plastic pods of coffee may be an uphill battle.

Read the whole story here.

Watch "The Knockoff Economy: How Copying Benefits Everyone," a great vid about intellectua property and how it functions in the fashion, food, and other industries.

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  1. You’d think companies would learn that locking down peripherals hurts themselves. Remember how Windows machines took off while Apple lagged?

    1. Part of me suspects this is closer to the printer and ink cartridge paradyme, where the money is in the disposable element instead of the hardware.

      1. The first time I saw a Keurig machine, I thought about razors and blades.

        1. Dude, Keurig’s not anything to kill yourself over. Please call the suicide-prevention hotline. We wanna keep you here at HyR.

          1. Said by someone who has never drank their coffee, I bet.

      2. Part of me suspects this is closer to the printer and ink cartridge paradyme, where the money is in the disposable element instead of the hardware.

        Your explanation means the Kcup would expire but any kcup without the element would work just fine.

        The IP protection HAS to be in the machine AND the kcup – a handshake has to be made in order for it to work.

    2. Somehow I don’t see consumers rushing to trade in their old Keurigs for a new one every 24 months because a coffee carrier is subsidizing their hardware. And while iTunes paved the way, competition from other music services has forced Apple to offer DRM-free versions of their music. This too shall pass.

      1. The pieces of shit only last 2 years as it is.

        Google “keurig only lasted 2 years” and you get over 100 hits

        1. True that. We went through four in a year. Now I have one in the master bath for emergencies, but we just do the pour through into the thermal coffee jug. Not as quick a fix, but cheaper, even if you grind your own high quality beans.

    3. Yes, but Apple made a lot more money as a hardware producer than any Windows manufacturer, and it has a much bigger market cap than MS. Have that sort of lockdown is a great gig if you can keep it going.

      1. oh I totally agree, I’m just saying that first mover advantage is fleeting….and in the case if Keurig, they aren’t really innovative (like Apple was). Mr Coffee, Black and Decker and others already have similar hardware on the market….too late for DRM-like approaches to succeed in my opinion. Now if they’d started that way…

        1. Yeah, I think the razor blade example mentioned above is a pretty good one. But it seems hard to lock in something this simple. Personally, I don’t buy into the perfect market economics 101 hypothesis like a lot of libertarians/classical liberals re monopolies.

          1. Well, there is DeBeers and…

      2. It helps if you have a cult behind you, like Apple seems to have.

        1. Cult? Nonsense! I’ve noted your name, Ted S, and some of us will be visiting you for retraining to weed our your negativity.

  2. But if Sony is any precedent, it seems like maintaining control over plastic pods of coffee may be an uphill battle.

    K-cups are the minidisk of the coffee world?

    1. I still hold out hope for Beta.

      /Sony fainboi

  3. Sounds like an opportunity for the discount coffee suppliers to make a cheaper coffee maker too. Then Green mountain can try to get by on brand loyalty.


    This, or not buying Keurig in the first place, is the true libertarian solution. OTOH, government must step in and do something about the abuse of caps lock.

    1. I always thought of the K-cups as being as much overpriced junk as the old General Foods International Coffees.


        *runs sobbing to cabinet to look for 13 year old Cafe Vienna tin*

  5. Time to sell your GMCR stock.

  6. Someone trying to corner the market on the means to move hot water through coffee grains and a filter is the type of thing that keeps me up at night worrying.

    1. Market failure! Poor hit hardest.

  7. F**k Keurig. Buy an aeropress or a french press. It’ll be the former after you read this:…..aeropress/

    1. I have one, never going back to drip.

    2. And I got out of Cali too

      1. Muy excellente.

  8. My wife and daughters went all Keurig last year. I never have drunk coffee. Mountain Dew remains my drink of choice, pretty much 100% of the time – and yet I live.

    So – never got any of this. Just don’t drink coffee, and – at my advanced age – never will.

    My mom’s still rocking the “filter paper in one of those X shaped glass vessels” from the 70’s. She takes her coffee black – seems to work fine, +cheap. She’s a Depression-Era baby, so cheap is still important to her.


    1. I had a roomate who made a giant pot of coffee in a ceramic stovetop kettle every morning because he thought it tasted best. Best thing about it, he got up before I did.

      1. +1 cup

        1. + 2 girls

    2. My wife needs coffee every morning – we use one of those plug-in percolators. It gives a slightly burned taste to the coffee but I like that.

    3. People talking about higher quality coffee making methods are missing what the Keurig audience is: convenience.

      Make a coffee press that makes the coffee itself while I shower and really only requires me to clean the cup I drink out of, then get back to me.

  9. Also, K-Cup sounds like a brand name for a jock strap, so….

    1. I’d buy a D-Cup….grande

    2. They’re channeling the marketing genius behind the Chrysler K-Car

  10. Oh, at the eye Dr. yesterday (“best eyes I’ve seen all day”…”um, OK”), saw a Pop Science blurb about a food printer. Makes chocolate and other candies. MIT dude – he said the hard part was figuring out how to dispense chocolate, cause it clogs everything up.

    This thing prints gorgeous, layered desserts in about a minute for a muffin-sized thing. His goal is to print something that starts out as a fudgebrownie and ends up as lemon meringue pie, cause…you can do that with this technology.

    It was also a really, really nicely designed machine. Really cool looking.


    1. Do you have a license to be a bakery?


  11. So, now I’m going to have to hack my coffee maker? Nazi IP punks, fuck off!

    (Yeah, I see the irony of using a DK reference for IP)

  12. Keurig is welcome to try to keep their machines exclusive to their pods, but I suspect they will be shooting themselves in the foot long term.

  13. If Keurig is you primary source of coffee, well, you’ve just stopped caring, haven’t you?

    1. No, just started caring about other things.

  14. Definitely check Green Mountain for ties to HP. After a software “update” on my printer, it stopped working with reman’d printer cartridges.

    The obvious difference being that I expect plenty of coffee makers to be compatible with k-cups, whereas HP’s competitors have their own proprietary print cartridges.

  15. What ever happened to creating brand loyalty through superior products?

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