The Great Coffee Can Patent War, Starring Kraft and Procter & Gamble

If you drink Folgers or Maxwell House, the coffee can on your shelf is the subject of a patent war between Kraft and Procter & Gamble. Both are accusing the other of stealing the innovative technology used to contain your precious morning fuel in a resealable plastic can that can “withstand the pressure changes that occur between the factory and the consumer’s home.”

Kraft is seeking unspecified damages. The Northfield, Ill.-based company also wants P&G to stop sales of the Folger’s plastic coffee container, saying Kraft will be harmed if those sales continue.

P&G responded on Wednesday with a suit of its own in the same court, spokesman Bryan Brown said. The suit alleges containers Kraft uses for Maxwell House violate one of P&G’s patents. The suit likewise seeks unspecified damages and asks that a judge rule to prevent Kraft from using P&G’s patents.

The suits follow one filed by P&G against Kraft on Aug. 27 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. In that case, Cincinnati-based P&G sought a similar patent infringement ruling involving a different patent that it alleges Kraft uses in plastic containers for Maxwell House.

That case also sought unspecified damages and an injunction to prevent Kraft from selling the coffee in the packaging.

So what is the magic behind patent number 7,169,418?

A fresh packaging system for roast and ground coffee having a top load capacity of at least about 16 pounds (7.3 Kg) comprising a container with a closed bottom, an open top, and a body enclosing a perimeter between the bottom and the top. A protuberance is continuously disposed around the perimeter of the body proximate to the top and forms a ridge external to the body. A flexible closure is removeably attached and sealed to the protuberance so that the closure seals the interior volume of the container. The container bottom and container body are constructed from a material having a tensile modulus number ranging from at least about 35,000 to at least about 650,000 pounds per square inch (at least about 2,381 to at least about 44,230 atm).

Translation: It’s a plastic coffee can with a resealable top.

Kraft, P&G sue over coffee cans [AP]
Packaging system to provide fresh packed coffee [Google Patents]

Comments

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  1. timmus says:

    Wow — finally one court case where I’m happy to see the lawyers as the only winners.

  2. iEddie says:

    I fail to see how Kraft will be harmed.

    Idiots.

  3. JessiesMind says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me. Heads up Kraft and P&G… Tupperware’s got ya both beat. So, STFU and make coffee.

    Oh, and while we’re at it, drop those unholy prices. I’ve been drinking store brand for months now and I can only assume it has something to do with greedy CEO’s wanting a new sports car instead of happy, caffeinated customers. The way I see it, if the donkey was good enough for Juan…

  4. rlee says:

    Did that illustration come from the patent? I don’t see a hole or spout mentioned in the text, nor do I see them in the Folgers plastic coffee can that happened to be in front of me when I read this.

  5. uricmu says:

    The funny thing is, that if you drink either brand, you can keep it open on your countertop and it would taste just as crappy.

    Like any poison or sin, it’s better to go for quality. Then again, enough people like McD’s coffee.

  6. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    The illustration appears to be a box of salt.
    Years ago Morton Salt sued others over the snap open shaker insert that Morton put on it’s one pound salt boxes.
    Interestingly, Morton no longer puts the shaker insert on the top of its salt boxes!

  7. Me. says:

    As an industrial designer, I can see the importance in this. Aside from the giant corporation spending the money for research, prototyping, and market research… there is a lowly designer with his/her name somewhere on that patent that stands to make a small profit on it and to have that design in his/her portfolio. I dunno… when it comes to IP, it does the whole creative field good to protect your designs and patents.

  8. TSS says:

    Morton’s Salt had better step in and sue them both, because it looks like a rip off of their salt containers, with a plastic lid added. Go Morton’s!

  9. TSS says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: In other words, ditto what Greasy Thumb said.

  10. Falconfire says:

    @uricmu: Make fun all you want, but MdD coffee in a taste test with coffee connoisseur beat out all but fresh ground Arabica coffee just roasted and prepared for brewing. One of the things McDonalds coffee has over places like Starbucks amd Dunkin Donuts is that they ONLY use Arabica beans while the other two mix theirs because its cheaper, but thus much more bitter since Robusta coffee is much lower quality and a bitter bean to begin with.

  11. dscosson says:

    @Falconfire: I’ve seen you spread that rumour in other threads. Let me be clear:

    STARBUCKS DOES NOT USE ANY ROBUSTA
    STARBUCKS DOES NOT USE ANY ROBUSTA
    STARBUCKS DOES NOT USE ANY ROBUSTA

    at all, in any of their in-store or pre-packaged coffees.

    None. 100% arabica.

  12. MFfan310 says:

    I can see the new Folgers commercial now: “The best part of waking up is patent infringement in your cup!”

  13. HooFoot says:

    @Falconfire: Amen. I was skittish about drinking McDs coffee at first, but I gave it a try when I was in desperate need of a caffeine fix and McDs was the only thing available. I was pleasantly suprised–it was better than anything I’ve had at Starbucks in years and a large cup only cost me a $1.39. I’ve become a McDs coffee customer since.

  14. Boberto says:

    McD’s history teaches, (comparatively) low grade beans, brewed (and held) at higher temps in order to extract oils (flavenoids).

    Hence, 3rd degree burns to your lap, fingers and labia. Such a litigious society.

  15. 5h17h34d says:

    “top load capacity of at least about 16 pounds”?

    How can this be a consumer package?

  16. emona says:

    I keep my (freshly ground) coffee in an old Mr Peanuts glass jar from 1989. Screw them all.

  17. Parting says:

    Boo, instant coffee.
    It does not taste like freshly ground.
    Even in a nice box.

  18. DrGirlfriend says:

    There is no MegaCoffeePackagingSystem3000 in the world that will make that stuff taste good.

  19. BigNutty says:

    Why is it so hard to go back to see who filed for the patent first on this design? Am I missing something?

  20. mac-phisto says:

    isn’t this type of crap the very reason that the automakers all own a share of each other? their products are so similar (& occasionally use the same parts) they’d be spending all day suing each other instead of building cars.

    & incidentally, i like my coffee dominican. excuse me while i go brew a cup.

  21. Charles Duffy says:

    @Me.: I’ll grant that for your field, but not mine. Mechanical design != software; in the latter case, patents are more a hindrance than a help, and economic analysis backs that up.

  22. no.no.notorious says:

    i don’t drink coffee from a can anyway.

    go for the packages of air tight bricks of coffee. from brazil. yum.

    i can understand why someone would be upset if someone stole their packaging design but damn…a coffee can? two “multi-million” companies? give me a break.

  23. Rusted says:

    @blankfaze: So? It’s still charbucks.

    I get the canned Krogers “Premuim”. Cheap and not really bitter.

  24. e-gadgetjunkie says:

    I buy my coffee in bags, grind it right there in the store, then transfer it into a glass container when I get home. Stays fresh, no infringement.

  25. vitonfluorcarbon says:

    The patent was issued in Jan 2007, but the application filed in 2003. The link to the actual patent page:

    [patimg1.uspto.gov],169,418.PN.%2526OS%3DPN%2F7,169,418%2526RS%3DPN%2F7,169,418&PageNum=&Rtype=&SectionNum=&idkey=NONE&Input=View+first+page

    You may need to download the USPTO viewer to see it if interested.

    It was issued to Procter and Gamble. If they got the patent, I don’t see how Kraft has a leg to stand on – the USPTO doesn’t just hand these out.

  26. vitonfluorcarbon says:

    By the way – the image is from the patent. But there are several images. Most of them you would recognize as the Folgers can you may have in your cupboard.

  27. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    @vitonfluorcarbon:
    Actually the USPTO does hand out patents to just about anyone!
    A couple of years ago a man patented pumping your legs on a swing!
    PTO is broken, totally, completely broken!
    It has too few employees, & too few with the proper training.