Sara Lee’s Patent for Coffee Pads Revoked by EPO

Senseo is a well known and hugely popular European coffee brewing system developed in 2001 by two Dutch companies, Philips and Douwe Egberts (subsidiary of Sara Lee). This co-branding project resulted in two main innovations, the coffee pads (or “pods”) and its unique design. The Senseo coffee machine combines a patented brewing system from Philips with quality coffee pads from DE. Sara Lee received an European patent for the pads: European patent nr EP o904 717 B1 which was granted in 2001 for a “assembly for use in a coffee machine for preparing coffee, container and pouch of said assembly”.

The Senseo coffee machine automatically uses the correct amount of water and provides a solution to the so-called “bypass problem”. In order to maximize the flavor of the coffee bean, the machine ensures that all the water passes through the coffee pads quickly and evenly. Soon after its introduction, copycat pads reached the European markets. A slew of patent litigation followed. To no avail to Sara Lee, who brought the proceedings both in Netherlands and in Belgium.

The Integro case ended in 2003 with a defeat for Sara Lee, when the Dutch Supreme Court (“Hoge Raad”) held in a case between Sara Lee and Integro – a retail chain of supermarket stores- that Integro’s coffee pads did not infringe Sara Lee’s patent even though they were made and marketed to be used on Senseo coffee machines. In Belgium the results were not much better.

On August 30 a new – an final – blow was dealt to Sara Lee by the European Patent Office, deciding in opposition that Sara Lee’s coffee pad patent be revoked.

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