Is it legal to make and sell a refillable coffee pod? 7 Answers as of September 13, 2013

Is it legal to make and sell a refillable coffee pod for a Starbucks Verismo system? Starbucks currently sells pre-filled coffee pods for use in its Verismo coffee makers. They do not sell, nor do I believe they have plans to sell, refillable pods similar to K-Cups (Green Mountain Coffee Co.). Would it be legal to create a pod that fits into the Verismo machine if the pod is of a substantially different shape than the Starbucks pre-filled version? I do not know what patents cover the Starbucks Verismo pods today.

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Eminent IP, P.C.
Eminent IP, P.C. | Paul C. Oestreich
The answer to your question cannot be answered simply and requires a search of the relevant issued patents and an opinion of counsel variously referred to as a right-to-use, freedom to operate, clearance or noninfringement opinion letter. The difficulty you will likely encounter may not necessarily from Starbucks and their Verismo system, but from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) and their ubiquitous Keurig K-Cups which dominates the massive $8B market in single-serve coffee pods. Forbes Magazine noted that GMCR is purported to have at least 37 patents on the technology (both single-shot pods and refillable) and though some patents may have expired, certainly others are issuing or in the queue at the Patent Office, see, http://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisbarth/2012/09/20/starbucks-new-verismo-machine-sinks-green-mountain-will-you-buy-it/. Starbucks is likely licensed under the GMCR patent portfolio. So other new competitors, like you, would probably draw the attention of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' licensing attorneys. It is also likely that Starbucks has some intellectual property of their own. So, you would have to either: (1) come up with some sort of pod that was not covered by patents owned by GMCR, Starbucks, or anyone else that has a relevant patent on single-serve coffee pods (design around the patents), or (2) seek a license from anyone who has a patent you may infringe by making and selling your refillable pod. Just one last note, such right-to-use opinions are typically some of the most expensive opinions of counsel because of the volume of materials that must typically be analyzed, not just claim charts against your refillable pod, but also prosecution file histories for each and every relevant patent, as well as finding the relevant patents in the first place. As always, your first step should be to consult with patent counsel to seek legal advice for your particular facts and the current jurisprudence in controlling Federal Circuit and Supreme Court case law.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 9/13/2013
Mark S. Hubert PC
Mark S. Hubert PC | Mark Hubert
Unfortunately you are not asking me for an answer to a question for which you have provided me a complete series of facts. You are asking me to do the research, find out if there are any patent out there that cover what Starbucks is doing and then comment on whether or not what you want to do infringes any of their potential patents. It would be akin to asking a mechanic to put your car up on his diagnostic rack, have him do all the tests at his expense and time, then tell you what parts to buy and show you how to put them in. Sorry you dont get all this for free. Im not here to do your homework. However i can tell you that if Starbucks has a patent that may cover the apparatus or method described, and you want to practice that method or sell that apparatus - then you may be infringing.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 9/13/2013
Michael M. Ahmadshahi
Michael M. Ahmadshahi | Michael M. Ahmadshahi, Ph.D., Esq.
Yes it is legal, only if there are no patents that cover refillable coffee pods like yours.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 9/13/2013
Microtechnology Law & Analysis | Daniel Flamm
Many issues. But it seems as if you are asking about patent infringement? If so you need to do a patent search. This is not an appropriate forum to ask for a free patent search. There would certainly be issues about using Starbuck's trademarks, like Verismo. As for merely selling a compatible pod, I see no barrier to doing so provided no patents cover what you plan to sell.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 9/13/2013
Banner & Witcoff, Ltd. | Ernie Linek
In 2012 Starbucks introduced the Verismo(r) system which combines Starbucks signature Espresso Roast and drink recipes with precise Swiss engineering and a patent-pending high pressure extraction brewing system. The Verismo system is believed to have been designed by Germany-based Krueger GmbH & Co. There may be issued U.S. patents or pending U.S. applications directed to the pods used in the Verismo system. You can search for free at the Patent Office website www.uspto.gov. You should consult with a patent attorney and have a clearance search conducted.
Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
Replied: 9/13/2013
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler
    Law Office of Kirk Buhler | Kirk A Buhler
    A brief search for patents and published patent applications assigned to "Starbucks" shows several patents, like 8,371,211 and 7,673,555 that relate to a brewing machine. Without specific information on your coffee pot a determination can't be determined. There may be other patents from companies other than Starbucks the you might be infringing upon with your design. You should contact a local Intellectual property firm that can evaluate your product with issued and pending patents. The legality and the potential for being sued by a patent owner are different issues. In general you will not be arrested for making an infringing item, but you could be sued for patent infringement where damages could be awarded. A patent owner has the right to sue someone for making, or using or selling an infringing product.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/13/2013
    Tran & Associates | Bao Tran
    You should seek an attorney to determine whether they have patents that prevent third party pods. We are patent attorneys and we can help you on infringement question. Additionally, you may want to patent your pod design. PowerPatent has a patent software called ProvisionalBuilder(R) that automatically searches for similar ideas. As you enter the title and summary, the software runs an automatic search to suggest similar patents you should look at to see how similar patents are written. You should get patent application as soon as you can to prevent others from copying you. This is important as we move into the First to File era. Software costs $99 so it i very inexpensive yet guides you to prepare a high quality patent application that one year later you can turn to a lawyer to convert into a utility application for you. A feature summary is at http://www.powerpatent.com/prwelcome THe software helps you organize information, and through your summary description, brings back sample patents in the same field for you to use as examples.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/13/2013
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