Keurig Begins Demonstrating Its Coffee DRM System; As Expected, It Has Nothing To Do With 'Safety'

from the it-has-to-do-with-expired-patents dept

Back in March, we told you about how the famed makers of the Keurig single-cup coffee brewing “pod” contraption was about to launch a new version with DRM. A competitor, Treehouse Foods, was taking Keurig makers Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to court over this attempt to block them out of the market. To say that post got a lot of attention would be a bit of an understatement. Green Mountain tried to hit back by claiming that the new DRM was about adding “interactive-enabled benefits” and safety to the single-cup coffee space. Because, you know, it was so unsafe before. And, besides, who doesn’t want more “interactive-enabled benefits” with their first cup of java in the morning?

Keurig has now started demonstrating the new system, and it’s exactly what everyone feared: a DRM system to make coffee pods more expensive and to keep out competitors’ refills.

When the Keurig employee tried to use an old-model pod, one without a new ink marker on the foil top, the brewer wouldn?t run. “Oops!” read a message on the touchscreen display, explaining that the machine only works with specially designed pods and directing the user to a Keurig website and helpline. The employee wouldn?t elaborate on how it worked, except to say that the ink is proprietary and inspired by counterfeiting technology used by the US Mint. Ian Tinkler, Keurig?s vice president of brewer engineering, went into a bit more detail, explaining that an infrared light shines on the ink marking and registers the wavelength of the light reflected back.

What about those promised interactive-enabled benefits? As far as I can tell, they appear to be the following:

With its new machine, Keurig is combining its two main product lines, the single-cup brewer and the carafe-brewing Vue…. The anti-counterfeiting system doubles as a way to distinguish between carafe-size pods and regular ones. If the sensor detects the green dot that marks carafe cups, it brews a large pot. If it detects the ring of black symbols on the standard pod, it brews a smaller cup. If it doesn?t detect a Keurig-approved marking at all, it tells you “oops!”

Yes, the “interactive-enabled benefits” will apparently maybe kinda save you from having to push a button or flip a switch between “cup” and “carafe.” Of course, it could do that same thing without a bogus code designed to block out competitor refills and just compete on the quality of its coffee. But, who wants to do that?

Of course, that story at the Verge also reveals why Keurig/Green Mountain Roasters is really doing all of this:

In September 2012 key patents on its K-Cups expired

*Ding* *Ding* *Ding*. We have a winner. None of this has anything to do with safety or benefits. It has to do with doing anything possible to avoid competing in the marketplace. There are lots of ways to play in a market and compete. One is to try to add more value than your competitors. Another is to try to block your competitors by taking away value. I never understand companies that seek to do the latter, but that’s what Keurig has decided to do.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,
Companies: green mountain coffee roasters, keurig, treehouse foods

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Keurig Begins Demonstrating Its Coffee DRM System; As Expected, It Has Nothing To Do With 'Safety'”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Violynne (profile) says:

In other news, stocks of Mr. Coffee soared on the news of the DRM machine made by Keurig.

“We’re very pleased our brand name will be relevant again. To assure our customers, we have no intention of making DRM filters for our brewers.”(1)

You know, my Mr. Coffee is looking a little dated. Maybe I’ll invest in “safety” and “features” of an upgraded pot size.

(1) This really didn’t happen, but it could.

Digger says:

Here's a suggest for Green Mountain

Patent’s expired. Great.

Build your own design that detects the new “interactive” bs by sensing the pod, not the ink.

Then make sure it’s compatible with all of the original pods too, and give manual override control for any pod.

Price it *under* the Keurig model and watch the profits soar, as Keurig pouts and goes out of business as the sore losers that they are.

Gracey (profile) says:

Re: Here's a suggest for Green Mountain

It’d be nice if someone made another coffee brewer that takes the k-cups. There is already an entire market out there of people who will eventually need a new one, and won’t buy Keurig’s DRM model (I won’t – I’ll never buy another Keurig brand pot, or recommend them the way I was doing).

What for? To make my friends and family mad at me? pffft. No thanks.

First manufacturer that produces a pot that works with all the Keurig accessories gets my business.

But what seems to have expired was the patent on the K-cups which isn’t that big of a deal.

There have been a multitude of mfg. making permanent filter type baskets that fit in Keurig. Melita makes one that comes in a 2-pack (got that), some off brand makes another that comes in a 2-pack (got that), and yesterday at Walmart, I saw different mfg. that has a 4-pack. Probably get that too. You can re-use k-cups (have been able to for some time) and purchase lids for them. They all work (cause I use them).

I just fill them up with my own coffee, and store them in plastic zipper bags.

Life is good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hacked in 3...2...1...

How long before the competition figures this out…

Just like copy protection, this was probably a lot of wasted money and resources that are going to keep the competition out for maybe a month or two at most.

And then what? Will Keurig abandon these devices for another new technology, forcing all the people who bought them to continue using “counterfeit” pods rather than upgrading again?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Hacked in 3...2...1...

No, I’m not.

You’re forgetting that DMCA applies to copyright, not coffee 😉

There is conceivably some “image” that they are reading from their special ink, and perhaps that image can be copyrighted…

But I suspect a judge might consider this a gross misuse of copyright law – and we may see this severely backfiring in court.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hacked in 3...2...1...

Sega required them to show a trademarked image, which they then argued was trademark infringement. The judge said it’s just part of the instructions and that the image wasn’t used by the company in commerce. In fact, the company went out of their way to show that they were NOT approved by Sega (Tengen I believe).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hacked in 3...2...1...

Although the “does not protect anything copyrighted” argument worked in Chamberlain v. Skylink (Google it), there was a more recent case in California involving World of Warcraft (MDY Google that too) which suggested that there was no such requirement. If you actually read the relevant section of the DMCA (1201), it doesn’t appear to require any connection between circumventing and accessing copyrighted works.

And, before you protest, yes, that’s pretty dumb. It’s Congress, talking about technology, in the 1990s. What did you expect?

More importantly, if this reads ink off a Keurig foil top, what’s to prevent people from putting a “legit” Keurig foil top on top of their cheap substitute K-cups?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hacked in 3...2...1...

Reading the statute, it clearly says…

a technological measure “effectively controls access to a work” if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work.

In other words the “technical measure” being circumvented has to protect access to the work covered by the copyright otherwise it doesn’t apply.

You can’t simply say that because something has some component in it that is protected by copyright and happens to have some technical measure in it protecting something else that circumventing the technical measure for some reason other than gaining access to the copyrighted material is a violation of the DMCA. That would be silly and a massive overreach. For example, given that most modern cars today have computerized components in them with programming that is undoubtedly covered by copyright. All cars today have door locks designed to control access to the interior of the vehicle. If that broad interpretation of the law were the case, and you accidentally locked your keys in your car, having a locksmith circumvent the door locks on your car would be illegal simply because the car has some part of it covered by copyright which would be utterly stupid.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Re: Re: Re: Hacked in 3...2...1...

It’s already happened. Lexmark tried nearly the identical stunt with their printer cartridges. The attempt failed. Miserably. See this for details.

To anticipate your argument that it’s printer cartridges, not coffee filter baskets, I would invite your attention to the fact that the filter basket and the printer cartridge do more or less the exact same thing.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Hacked in 3...2...1...

I figured it punches the top after it scans it.

So did I. If it doesn’t scan until after it punches the top that adds even another layer of annoyance (and cost) to the consumer:

“Oops!. You’ve inserted a non-approved pod. As an added bonus we’ve fucked up the seal on your non-approved pod to make sure your non-approved product goes stale as soon as possible. Have a nice day!”

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

It’s only a matter of time before someone figures out that wavelength and out comes a way around it. I would laugh my ass off if it turns out that the pant markers from the hobby store can be used.

Then it turns into a cat and mouse game. Keurig changes their wavelength, paying customers are forced to upgrade (USB? Network? Buy a new one?), coffee “pirates” spend a week finding the new wavelength. Repeat.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Nothing beats the Aeropress

Brews the best coffee of any home system I’ve ever tried, 1-4 cups at a time, in under a minute. You can use any coffee you like. Almost no cleanup is required (just a quick rinse). No electricity needed. Very nearly as convenient as K-cups, much superior brew, much less waste, and it costs about $30.

K-cups (or any similar system) don’t even come close.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The answer is no, not under the DMCA. They may have patented it but there’s nothing here to copyright and the DMCA only applies to copyright. The only reason electronic devices like cellphones get snagged under the DMCA is that they have extensive amounts of code that is covered under copyright as well as patents. There is no way special paint could be considered copyrightable even if it is patentable.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The only reason electronic devices like cellphones get snagged under the DMCA is that they have extensive amounts of code that is covered under copyright as well as patents.”

That’s what makes me nervous. That the existence of copyrighted content in cellphones allows the misapplication of the DMCA to the cellphones means that it could be misapplied anywhere else, too. (It’s a misapplication because the DMCA is being used to prevent activities that don’t lead to copyright violations, such as unlocking your cellphone). After all, name a product that doesn’t include copyrighted works. Even the coffee cups contain copyrighted elements.

However, that Lexmark lost in court does give some measure of comfort.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Reading the posting you have of the law, I have to wonder how exactly unlocking a cell phone violates the DMCA? The carrier lock does not prevent access to the work covered by copyright. It prevents access to other carrier’s services not any content in the phone covered by copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

IMO, the real story here was that patents were being used initially to prevent the market from figuring anything out prior to 2012.

Now that the patents have expired, and everyone can get in on the action (i.e. innovate and provide real consumer choice) – we find the incumbents grasping at straws to hold onto their market share rather than actually improve anything.

andy says:


So could I not just have a pod top and use that to get the process going by scanning it, or even better do away with all this drm by buying some other manufacturers system that does everything this one does without the drm.???? I am confused as to why they believe this is a good way to go, do they not want me to buy their system for some reason?

Vidiot (profile) says:

Sounds familiar

Recently bought off-brand refill ink cartridges for two different household inkjets, and guess what? The printer wants to read a proprietary embedded chip before permitting operation. Is that for technical reasons? How about “inkjet safety”… nobody wants caustic ink sprayed on their mucus membranes! Must be that.

No, the absence of a correctly-formatted chip causes on-screen warning messages… kind of like the VHS FBI warning… that you’re not using genuine manufacturer-branded cartridges, available for a mere 200% premium. Effectively disables operation. DRM rules, baby!

JP says:


I’ll admit, I haven’t read the actual anti-circumvention clause in the DMCA, so I might be off here…. However, detecting a specific wavelength of light seems like a very analog process to me. Therefore, can it really fall under the definition of “Digital” Rights/Restrictions Management? It’s probably more complicated than detecting a single wavelength of light, but if that’s all the process is and that wavelength can be replicated, have you violated the DMCA?

Anyhow, if Keurig goes through with this, I won’t be buying one of their new machines, ever. And this is from someone who has bought countless K-cups since the original Keurig machines came out… I’ve had a Keurig since back when they gave away (for free) the re-usable and refillable plastic insert because k-cups were impossible to find and could only be ordered online.

Between my wife and I, we’ve probably convinced 20 friends and family members to buy a Keurig machine. We won’t have any problem convincing those family members to *not* buy a new Keurig in the future when theirs breaks. (and don’t get me started on how the quality of the physical machines has fallen over the years…. The new ones seem to break MUCH faster than the old ones… The original machines sounded like tanks rolling across the counter-top, but they were much more reliable over time than the new ones which seem to break after two years. I digress…)

John Fenderson (profile) says:


“However, detecting a specific wavelength of light seems like a very analog process to me. Therefore, can it really fall under the definition of “Digital” Rights/Restrictions Management?”

Yes. The anti-circumvention clause is not predicated on exactly what form the access control takes. It can be purely mechanical and still count.

However, as commenters above corrected me about, it does apply only to bypassing controls to works protected by copyright. Here are excerpts from the law itself (I’ve omitted parts that describe exceptions and other things of limited relevance — check out the full text here:

(a) Violations Regarding Circumvention of Technological Measures.—
(A) No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title. The prohibition contained in the preceding sentence shall take effect at the end of the 2-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this chapter.


(3) As used in this subsection—
(A) to “circumvent a technological measure” means to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner; and
(B) a technological measure “effectively controls access to a work” if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: DRM

As I said, this probably doesn’t apply to K-cups. But if Keurig wanted to make a case that it does, they wouldn’t claim the coffee itself is copyrighted. They’d claim that some other copyrighted element is being protected. Much like Lexmark didn’t claim that the printer ink in their cartridges was being protected, but that the chip embedded in the cartridges contained code that was.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 DRM

I suppose, in theory, they could do a couple of things.

If they stamped a work covered by copyright onto the top of the K-Cups, their machine could reject cups that did not have the work stamped on the top of it – meaning cups made from other manufacturers would not work and it would violate their copyright to produce cups with the work on them without a license.

In addition, they could have the machine display a copyright-covered work while it was making coffee – in which case manipulating the machine in a way that allowed it to display the work (and thus make coffee) would be a DMCA circumvention.

Of course, it’s all stupid – we just want a damn cup of coffee.

Anon says:

Market, Market, Market...

I have 2 Keurig machines (home and work). As long as they keep working, and the price of coffee does not go through the roof, I will keep using them. If/when I need a replacement, I will look at what’s available at that time. Currently I can get Costco boxes of Starbucks cartridges for $36 for 50 or more; I’ll keep an eye on whether this changes too.

I suspect there will be a number of sellers who will keep making old-Keurig compatible cartridges for cheap; I’ve already found some which were paper-filter bottomed rather than plastic cups; I wonder if this was to get around the patents?

the article was not clear about the form factor issue. Is Keurig going to try the L-Cassette or DVD-A route? “Your new machine takes a different shape of coffee cartridge”? or are they going to annoy the heck out of everyone with identical cartridges that don’t work on some machines? When you start seeing second-party cartridges for sale on the store shelves with a sign “will no work in new Keurigs” that’s a guarantee that they will be scaring off new customers, encouraging them to explore alternative coffee makers that don’t exhibit this problem. trying to introduce a new form-factor same as all the rest, into a pretty much mature market is a dangerous move (Sony Memory Sticks, anyone?)

I bought my Keurig because I never need carafe-sized brewing, it’s all single-cup sized. I never made coffee at home because the hassle of dealing with grounds for 1 cup was not worth it. I pay 75 cents to a dollar a cup for the convenience of handling. I suspect high-volume users are unlikely to want to pay 5 times the regular price for the convenience of a carafe cartridge over ground coffee in a filter, so the profit margin for carafe cartridges will be a lot less, the places carrying these will be much fewer, and the machines that accommodate carafe filters will sell in much smaller numbers.

Besides, in what way is “type of paint/ink” a DRM under DCMA? If the pattern is specific, that could be copyright (much as Apple inserts a copyright code in its computers’ BIOS, and the Apple OS checks for it). But just the ink? Heck, how about an ink that reflects multiple wavelengths? Can you really patent an invisible color?

The main point is that this extra tech – light, sensor, electronics – costs money. Does this make the new equipment more expensive? You’ll be competing with knock-offs or brands that will use Keurig cartridges (or others) without the extra crap. If all it takes is a yes/no signal, hacks will be available to make it work (i.e. peel the lid off a used cop, glue it inside your coffee-maker?) My Keurig can get messy – is the sensor vulnerable to coffee splatter blocking the sensor? Will users be thrilled to find their coffee-maker is fine, except the sensor refuses to see valid cartridges after a year?

DRM is generally more hassle than it’s worth.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Market, Market, Market...

“Currently I can get Costco boxes of Starbucks cartridges for $36 for 50 or more”

That’s crazy expensive, especially for Starbucks. I’d say that the price of K-cups is already through the roof.

“I suspect there will be a number of sellers who will keep making old-Keurig compatible cartridges for cheap”

The old cups don’t work in the new machines.

“I never made coffee at home because the hassle of dealing with grounds for 1 cup was not worth it.”

If it’s convenience for single-cup brewing that you’re after, there are much better (and cheaper) solutions than the Keurig machines.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Market, Market, Market...

“That’s crazy expensive, especially for Starbucks.”

Less then a dollar a cup for Starbucks coffee? Sounds inexpensive to me, but I don’t drink coffee so I don’t know.

“The old cups don’t work in the new machines.”

That’s part of Anon’s point. People won’t buy the new machines so they’ll still need the older style cartridge.

Gracey (profile) says:

Re: Re: Market, Market, Market...

We pay about $36 for a box of 80 at Costco. Works out to .45 cents or so a cup. Not starbucks (hate their coffee), but usually Folgers.

I don’t find that particularly expensive. McGregor’s was selling boxes of coffee cups that fit in Keurig in a 4-pack. Cost $1 for 4 = .25 ea. Last time I bought McGregor’s it was a 12 pack for $5

You pay for the convenience when you need a coffee asap, but I refuse to buy at the cost Keurig wants for the size K-cup. Whatever is on sale at a good price, unless the coffee really sucks (found some brands that are just baaad).

So_Shall_Comment says:

Ink wavelength...LOL

So when there ink supplier messes up or changes his “formulation” 30 million coffee pods won’t work and 1 million customers machines stop working…

Pesonally I think I’d get annoyed at having to stick the top of a ligit coffee pod on to my “gerneric” coffee pod to make it work all the time.

But I think there is too much B.S. in the statements by the company. Wavelength of reflected light off the ink….ROFL

LAB (profile) says:

I’m not sure why the author is surprised or feels this is somehow inappropriate. They make a product and want to control the market on refills. I do not recall an article when Apple changed the Iphone charger interface when releasing a new model. Often manufacturers will void warranties when parts are used or service is performed by outside vendors. This is perfectly legal and if other coffee pod makers want to create their own coffee maker, I am sure there is no ban on them doing so. To suggests this is somehow unfair would make me counter suggesting this is just what spurs innovation, for competitors to build a better cheaper coffee maker. I use one that doesn’t use pods, uses a reusable filter, and when I want to make less coffee, I use less coffee grounds and less water.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Re: Re:

Often manufacturers will void warranties when parts are used or service is performed by outside vendors.

This is correct up to a certain point (I don’t know where it lies, but I know it exists). Manufacturers frequently put language into their warranty terms that use of third-party, (or non-oem, or after-market, or however else they phrase it) parts will automatically void the warranty in question.

I’m buggered if I can remember where/when I’ve seen it, but I seem to recall seeing something about this. Under federal law – the Magnusson-Moss Warranty act would be a good place to start, but I think there’s also court decisions about this. T

he manufacturer has to prove that a 3-rd party part was directly responsible for damage claimed under warranty. And that, from what I understand, is a pretty steep hill to climb. For example, your car manufacturer can say that if you use lubricants from some manufacturer other than what they recommend, the warranty on your engine is null and void. But, if they try it, and you produce even a suggestion that you were taking reasonable care of your car, and following maintenance and use recommendations, the car maker will soon find themselves footing the bill for the covered repairs, and (depending on what you have to do to force them to that point) maybe some legal fees and costs as well.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: This is why I hate DRM

According to Wikipedia:
Under the [DMCA], circumvention of a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work is illegal if done with the primary intent of violating the rights of copyright holders.
So what kind of hardware is described as a work on your planet? Because none are on mine.
As for what Wikipedia says about the EU Copyright Directive:
In 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that circumventing DRM on game devices may be legal under some circumstances, limiting the legal protection to only cover technological measures intended to prevent or eliminate unauthorised acts of reproduction, communication, public offer or distribution.
Here, the law clearly states that DRM should only be used to prevent illegal acts, not competition. No wonder people call it Digital Restrictions Malware.

Plenty says:

Plenty of machines coming

FYI everybody – I was at the Appliance Trade show this year, and there were no less than 12 new K Cup machines that are not Keurig’s coming to the market. All of GMCR’s competition will be flocking into the market at the same time the new Keurig 2.0 is. Options will be there, from the simplest and cheapest forms, to the extravagantly unnecessary. And that’t just the beginning. Welcome to capitalism Keurig.

William Johnson (profile) says:

I cannot think of a more vile company in consumer goods than Keurig. Many users who bought this piece of crap Keurig 2.0 had to throw away hundreds of dollars of K-Cups they had legally acquired. Throughout history it has been considered a human rights violation to force people to throw away perfectly good food. To say Keurig sucks doesn’t even start to describe it. I hope they go out of business soon.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...