Keurig's Coffee DRM Already Cracked By Competitors; Will There Be A Lawsuit?

from the wait-and-see... dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, maker of the infamous Keurig single cup coffee makers, and its plan to DRM its next generation coffee pods. The original pods were going off patent, and competition was rising. So, of course, the solution is to come up with something new… and lock it down to make it less useful for consumers. When that story went viral, Team Keurig tried to spin the story, claiming the DRM would provide “interactive-enabled benefits” and would improve users’ safety. Of course, when the system finally started showing up a couple months ago, people quickly realized it had nothing to do with safety, and the “interactive-enabled benefits” seemed to consist mainly of being able to distinguish a carafe-sized pod from a single cup-sized pod. Oh yeah, and to block out competing pods so that Keurig pods can be priced artificially high. Interactive! Enabled! Benefits!

Except… as RomanOnARiver alerts us, it appears that Keurig competitors have already figured out ways to crack the DRM. TreeHouse Foods very quickly announced that it would be able to break the DRM. Meanwhile, Mother Parkers’ RealCup has just announced that its pods are compatible with Keurig’s DRM. It’s a little unclear from the press release if Mother Parkers cracked the DRM or came to a deal with Green Mountain, though it sure sounds like it was internal work:

“We are very pleased that our focus on innovation, quality, and freedom of choice has led to new technology that will produce authentic tasting coffee and tea products in all K-Cup type single-serve brewers, both old and new styles,” said Bill VandenBygaart, Vice President of Business Development for Mother Parkers. “Standard size capsule brews, as well as larger carafe and multi-serve formats, will soon be available for independent brands of single-serve capsules. Consumers will be the ultimate winners by having the best tasting coffees and teas available.”

TreeHouse had already sued Green Mountain over the new DRM, but the bigger question is if Green Mountain would try to stop anyone from reverse engineering and cracking the new DRM. That would present an interesting legal fight…

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Companies: green mountaint roasters, keurig, mother parkers, treehouse foods

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Comments on “Keurig's Coffee DRM Already Cracked By Competitors; Will There Be A Lawsuit?”

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Fred says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Context. Because the comment was not made to add to the discussion–it was made to boost the ego of the person saying it. The subtext is: “I’m smarter and more refined than anyone that drinks pod coffee.”

No one disputes the ability of anyone to prefer one way of brewing coffee or source of coffee over another. The issue is with compulsion to state the preference when you aren’t asked about your preferences.

The psychological reasons are based in his own emotional needs rather than meaningful contribution to the discussion.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Old system: 25 cents of grounds in a 1 cent filter == 12 cups of coffee for about 26 cents.

Current system: 5 cents of grounds in a 10 cent cup == 1 cup of coffee for about 50 cents a cup.

New (DRM) system: 5 cents of grounds in a 10 cent cup with a 40 cent chip == 1 cup of coffee for about $1 a cup.

This is progress?

Dirk Belligerent (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

When I moved to my current job where I work alone in my office and ther I bought a 4-cup (20 oz) Mr. Coffee maker for $10. Package of 150 filters was $1. Big can of Maxwell House runs about $6 on sale. I drink a pot a day (very occasionally two) After 9 months, I’ve just gotten into my 2nd package of filters and am half-way through the 3rd can of coffee. Not counting flavored creamers, I’ve spent less than $30 for 390 10 oz. mugs of coffee so far, covering machine and coffee.

To make as much coffee with a Keurig would require a $120 machine and 780 coffee pods at ~55 cents a pop. That’s $430, or $550 total to make as much K-offee as I make for $30. It may be “better” coffee, but there’s no way in hell it’s 18 times better.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Seen this before...

I’ve said for a long time that the main effect of DRM in things like printer cartridges was to set precedents that would be used in other industries. Say, expensive replacement windows and oil filters in cars. For “safety reasons”, of course.

I never predicted that coffee would be DRM’d. Somehow I totally missed that one.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Seen this before...

I ordered a low-end HP laser printer yesterday. I asked for one that would use the same toner cartridges as the one I ordered six months ago. No such luck – those models were no longer available.

Of course it was the same story six months ago, when for that printer I asked for one using the same toner cartridges as the three ordered six months before THAT.

This means fewer potential customers for a given third-party cartridge, so it doesn’t pay to make them. The alternative to DRM.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It may be hard to patent (of course, when you can patent taking a picture in front of a white background…), but I have not seen the new K-Cups and don’t know if the pattern the ink is in is consistent with something that may get copyright or trademark protections.

If the machine is looking for a Keurig logo in some special ink that it understands, it is difficult to get around copyright and trademark violations.

scotts13 (profile) says:

It IS all about convenience

I know how to make better coffee, but there are certainly times my Keurig (actually, a Keurig-licensed Cuisinart) gets used. Zero to decent coffee in two minutes is nice, as is accommodating guests with varied preferences.

As for the DRM, it’s not that it’s complex or difficult, it’s that pesky circumvention clause on the DMCA. THAT will have to be tested in the courts, but on the face of it, circumvention – by ANY means – is illegal.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: It IS all about convenience

If they can claim copyright on the patterns on the label, they get them for infringement rather than circumvention.

It’s possible, but my impression is the sensor is only looking for a particular flourescence, not recognizing a particular pattern. Besides which, that would be difficult to get a durable (would hold up in court) copyright on. Trademark, yes, but the DMCA doesn’t protect trademarks. Of course, this all might be good enough to get someone to settle / cease and desist, even if it wouldn’t hold up in court.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder when purchasing a competitors coffee machine will be considered circumvention of kuerigs products . I have one question If I were to make a similar machine that could use all coffee pods would It be considered circumventing the DRM of kuerig products . Or if I were to chose to open the k-cups and use it in my aeropress.

Anonymous Coward says:

This looks like a Super-CD SAC-CD Audio-DVD type of problem. Existing Keurigs and competitors do exactly what they were meant to do – create a single cup of coffee with a minimum of hassle. (I never used to make coffee myself before this – tea was easier. Just drink coffee if it was available.)

So now, everyone who wants this convenience has a Keurig or a Tassimo – already. here comes a new, more complicated machine, whose selling point is “it will make more than one cup of coffee at a time”. How many people are going to buy it? Unless there are more than 2 people in the household who drink coffee (at the same time) then the added feature is a waste of time.

I think the new machines will enjoy limited sales. Then the consumer will become even more annoyed at them because half the time they buy single-cup servings and thy don’t work.

Or, the form-factor for the cups is different. (Commercial suicide – change the market-accepted cartridge shape) Then we have a format war – does the grocery store carry the cups with the 50% market share, the 45% market share, or the 3% market share? I suspect we’ll see difficulty finding the new cups, only the first two will be carried. What good is a coffee maker where you have to hunt all over for cartridges, versus one where the grocery stores are fighting for your dollar?

CD’s replaced vinyl and cassettes because they were light-years ahead in convenience and quality of sound. MP3’s replaced CD’s for the convenience and “price”. Ditto, DVD’s replaced awkward and bulky VHS very quickly with extremely better quality video. Blu-Ray acceptance was slower because DVD quality was pretty good. Flat-screen TV was immensely better than tube or rear-projection TV in many respects.

So what’s this new format got going for it? Better cup of coffee? How? Cheaper? Obviously not. Your current machine is obsolete? No. (How often do coffee-makers die?) Demand? By now the coffee-maker market must be close to saturated.

Anonymous Coward says:


This is why we need DMCA to be revised for clarity.
There is wording and spirit in DMCA to permit reverse engineering for purposes of interoperability, however the wording is currently such that it can be interpreted in a way which prohibits this.

Which is unfortunate – RevEng for purposes of consumer freedom (i.e., interoperability) should be specifically and broadly sanctioned…

Mike your thoughts on this part of DMCA?

BernardoVerda says:

Re: interoperability

If I’m not mistaken, there are such provisions (ie. exclusions to enable interoperability) in patent law.

I don’t pretend to know how a contest between patent law and the DCMA would work out — but patent law has been established a much longer time and has a much larger body of precedent behind it.

I suspect that this is a major reason why Keurig didn’t make it’s trademark/logo a part of their DRM scheme — even in the current “Intellectual Property” regime, it was just too risky to expose their trademark that way.

Robert (profile) says:

On the plus side

Don’t get me wrong. I find the genuine pods expensive and I go for cheaper alternatives regularly.

But Keurig, to their credit, stand behind their product. (Because they want you to buy the pods.) The first Keurig B40 I bought, failed after six months. It may have been hard water, but cleaning didn’t help. I called Keurig and then sent me a brand new replacement B40 at no charge. The replacement lasted nine months (so now past a year from when I bought the original) and they didn’t care, they sent a replacement for that one as well. AND, told me the replacement has a full year warranty too.

I suspect that this sort of customer service on the machines themselves, is at least partially paid for with profits from the sale of the coffee pods.

Just, “food for thought”. The alternative would be to charge a lot more for the coffee makers. (And I think they’re too pricey as it is.)

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