|The Juicero press, with juice pack in place. Image source.|
1. A juicer cartridge comprising:Although the claim seems to be fairly narrow, it certainly covers the basic essential requirements of the Juicero pack, and would make it hard for a competitor to make a compatible pack without falling within its scope. The claim therefore seems to do the job, in that it serves the purpose of preventing others selling the same juice pack without infringing.
one or more liquid permeable compartments adapted and arranged to at least partially surround the food matter; and
a liquid impermeable compartment at least partially surrounding the one or more liquid permeable compartments, wherein compressing the juicer cartridge compresses the food matter to extract juice from the food matter, wherein the extracted juice flows from the one or more liquid permeable compartments to the liquid impermeable compartment and then from the liquid impermeable compartment to outside of the juicer cartridge, the juicer cartridge further comprising:
an outlet associated with the liquid impermeable compartment; and
a seal associated with the outlet, wherein the seal is adapted to open above a pressure threshold, and wherein the extracted juice flows through the outlet to outside of the juicer cartridge.
Getting a patent, however, is not enough. The business also needs to be viable. To justify their very large investment, Juicero would need to get lots of people to buy a machine and then buy, and keep buying, their juicing packs. This is where the problems seem to start. The first problem is that the juicing machines are very expensive. A breakdown of a machine here explains why this is. The main reason seems to be that it is extremely over-engineered. The basic job of the machine is just to apply pressure to a bag, but the machine has been engineered with all kinds of extra features that appear to be superfluous or just totally unnecessary. The machine would need to be very much simplified to bring the price down, unless Juicero try to sell the machines at a loss to encourage users to buy the juice packs. This, however, is where the second problem starts. According to an article on Bloomberg, two investors in the company were "surprised" to find out that the company's own juice packs could be squeezed by hand to get practically the same result in terms of the amount of juice out of the pack, apparently making the press entirely unnecessary. This caused a great deal of fuss, resulting in lots of mocking of the company and their investors, and prompted Juicero's CEO to issue a statement arguing for the advantages of the company's products. Possibly the most ridiculous argument justifying the machine was that the "closed loop food safety system allows us to remotely disable produce packs if there is, for example, a spinach recall". This refers to the ability of the machine to read a code on a juice pack and, since the machine is connected to the internet, decide whether the pack is a good one. As far as advantages go, stopping the consumer from using the product is not much of one. In any case, if the machine refused to press a pack, the user could always just squeeze it by hand. The only real advantage of the machine seems to be about the same as that of an automatic toothpaste dispenser (see picture), which can be bought for much less than $400 and, of course, can use any toothpaste tube.
The other example is about honey rather than fruit juice, and relates to a new type of beehive that allows honey to be tapped from the hive without having to remove the combs. The invention, known as Flow Hive was developed by Australians Stuart and Cedar Anderson, and is the subject of various patent applications, such as this international application. The invention in this case aims to solve a well known problem with beehives, in that the combs have to be removed and processed to remove honey from them. The Flow Hive instead allows the combs to be split while still in the hive, allowing the honey to run out of the hive through a pipe (see picture). This clearly solves a technical problem and, provided the claimed invention is new, would seem to have no problem being patentable. Claim 1 currently on file at the EPO, which is probably allowable, reads:
1. An artificial honeycomb (32, 33) for use in a beehive (10) and which enables honey to be removed from the honeycomb (32, 33) without removing the honeycomb from the hive, the honeycomb (32, 33) comprising cells formed of at least two parts (102, 103) moveable relative to each other between a cell formed position and a cell open position characterised in that,
in the cell formed position, the cells comprise side walls (102, 103) and an end wall (104) to enable bees to fill the cell with honey, and in the cell open position, at least some of the side walls (102, 103) have moved apart, for removal of the honey.
|Flow Hive extraction pipe (source).|
Both Flow Hive and Juicero have patent protection that would cover their core business model, but this is where the similarities end. While Juicero have patent protection for their juicing packs that is aligned with the business model, it seems very unlikely that anyone would want to bother infringing (UPDATE: It seems I was wrong on this point. Juicero are tackling a Chinese company selling a system apparently very similar, although the extent to which this is really a patent infringement case, rather than passing off, is not clear). Flow Hive, on the other hand, have patent claims that protect their product and the product is apparently so good that others are already wanting to copy it. Provided their patent protection is sufficiently strong, they should be able to stop infringers and be able to build up their business that they have already put a lot of effort and money into, demonstrating the whole point of having a patent system.
In conclusion, while it is important that any patent you seek to get for your product is properly prepared and prosecuted, it is also vitally important to have a viable business proposition. A patent that covers something that nobody wants to buy is of course ultimately pointless. A patent for a product that others want to copy is clearly much better. While it seems fairly easy to see from these two examples which is which, this is only really possible with a degree of hindsight. Going back to the question I posed at the beginning, it really isn't possible in most cases (although there are of course exceptions) to tell whether a patent is good or bad, at least not without seeing the wider context.