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...

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 4:14am

    Excuse-me while I enjoy a much cheaper and tasty home brewed coffee watching this whole circus develop. Ahem.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Chuck Wegrzyn, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 4:55am

    Seen this before...

    This seems a lot like Lexmark adding DRM to its printer cartridges. Little consumer value other than to lift more money from our wallets.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 5:03am

    This is interesting because the new Keurig 'DRM' consists of printing the labels with a special ink that fluoresces in a particular way.
    The DRM may be weak, but I wonder if Keurig has set things up for a patent lawsuit over the ink, rather than going some other route.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 5:03am

    We knew it was coming , but also why I chose to use an Aeropress.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Bt Garner (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 5:14am

    In the words of Nelson Muntz, "Ha ha!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 5:29am

    Breaking the DRM

    If the DRM is based on fluorescing ink then it would be a simple matter for end users to "borrow" the foil off the top of an official K-Cup and tape it onto the top of any other K-Cup.

    Not to say that it would be convenient, but it would defeat the DRM.

     

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  7.  
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    scotts13 (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 6:07am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Fred, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 6:15am

    Re:

    There is nothing more worthy of respect and admiration than a smug display of illusory superiority.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 6:16am

    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.

     

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  10.  
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    Hodge, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 6:21am

    There's the potential for a copy protection / coffee protection pun lurking here, but I'm not up to it before I've had a cuppa...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 6:29am

    Re: Re:

    I agree with Ninja.
    Your favorite roast fresh ground and brewed is far superior to the pod coffee and it's less expensive. Not sure why this is considered illusory or smug.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Fred, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 6:48am

    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.

     

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  13.  
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    techflaws (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 6:49am

    Re: Breaking the DRM

    And here I thought the whole point of these machines was convenience. Sure as hell ain't better coffee or less waste.

     

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  14.  
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    Rekrul, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 6:54am

    Will the new single-serving pods be backwards compatible with the older machines?

    I don't drink coffee, but I know a couple people with Keurig machines. They're going to be pretty annoyed if the new pods aren't compatible with them and they phase out the older ones.

     

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  15.  
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    Roger Strong (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:16am

    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.

     

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  16.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:18am

    DMCA?

    I expect that Green Mountain will invoke the DMCA to stop the competition. Sigh. I used to like GM coffees. I'm boycotting them now. "Nevermore" cried the raven!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    nasch (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:18am

    Re: It IS all about convenience

    THAT will have to be tested in the courts, but on the face of it, circumvention - by ANY means - is illegal.

    Circumvention of protection of a copyrighted work. You can't copyright coffee, so I don't think that's going anywhere.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Erm, I was actually making fun of it. If they DRM their stuff there's always plenty of competition. And honestly I have never brewed any coffee in my life.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:27am

    Re:

    they competition needs not use the same ink, just an ink that responds in a similar enough manner.

    It would be hard to patent "apply fluorescing ink in surface x in location shown"

    ....but not impossible.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:27am

    Re:

    they competition needs not use the same ink, just an ink that responds in a similar enough manner.

    It would be hard to patent "apply fluorescing ink in surface x in location shown"

    ....but not impossible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Fred, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Then your superiority is NOT illusory. My apologies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:40am

    Re: Re: Seen this before...

    Fortunately, the precedent broke in a good direction on appeal: https://www.eff.org/cases/lexmark-v-static-control-case-archive

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:42am

    Re:

    I've tried every way of making coffee there is and in my opinion Aeropress is the finest way to make coffee in terms of both convenience and quality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:43am

    Re: Breaking the DRM

    The foil top is punctured when the cup is brewed, so you can't reuse it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:51am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 7:53am

    Re: Breaking the DRM

    You sir are a coffee pirate. If pirating a song is worth $150,000; I can only imagine what pirating a cup of coffee will cost you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 8:08am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 8:30am

    Re: Re: Breaking the DRM

    Arg me matie!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    nasch (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 8:36am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 8:52am

    Re: Re:

    Just FYI I've just patented "apply fluorescing ink in surface x in location shown on the internet"™.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 8:58am

    Re:

    Do you grind your own beans in a Ninja blender?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 8:59am

    Re:

    Popcorn! Getcha popcorn right heah!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    icon
    Namel3ss (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 9:01am

    Re: Seen this before...

    My thoughts exactly. And guess whose printers I won't even consider buying to this day? Yep, Lexmark. Because of this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 9:28am

    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.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    JEDIDIAH, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 10:05am

    The smug is strong in this one.

    I can can AND DO "make better" sometimes. Sometimes I don't. It's nice to not always need to go the whole 9 yards every time someone wants a small amount of coffee.

    It's nice to have options and not be one of the drones from the 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    JEDIDIAH, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 10:07am

    Re: Seen this before...

    The transactional overhead of adding DRM to a cheap single use coffee pod seems like it would overwhelm the rest of it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Chris Brand, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 10:10am

    What a waste of money

    One company pays people to come up with a scheme to lock out competitors, then the competitors pay people to figure out how to bypass it. Go innovation! Oh, wait. Zero patents, so I guess it doesn't count as innovation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    gorehound (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 10:26am

    Simply put:
    FUCK KEURIG !

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 10:28am

    Re: Re: Seen this before...

    Thank goodness they haven't tried to DRM the toilet, yet. Just think of the horror. Better yet, don't think of it and just read this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Bt Garner (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 10:29am

    Re: Re: Breaking the DRM

    Thank goodness my morals stop at downloading coffee.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    got_runs? (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 11:13am

    dude.....

    Keurig's coffee makers are a huge waste of money.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re: Seen this before...

    Don't get me started on oil filters. Oh, if I were king for a day. Oil filters would have a standard mount, and the only choice required for an oil change would be small, medium, or large filter.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    Roger Strong (profile), Aug 28th, 2014 @ 2:36pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 4:14pm

    Re: Re:

    Pssh the patent office would (and has) allowed patents on breathing, moving, existing in a 3d universe, printint (2d and 3d), being a human being, having DNA.....etc etc

    What makes you think they can't copyright/patent ink?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 2:52am

    Re: Re:

    lmao +1 internet to you dear sir with 10 bonuses for the beans ;)

    I actually use my ninja blades in fast motion to breed my beans.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
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    Bergman (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 5:06am

    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?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Nick, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 7:59am

    Re: It IS all about convenience

    Well, it's not just circumvention, it's circumvention of an "effective access control device."

    It's not at all clear that this matches the definition of an "access control device" in the sense that was part of the legislative intent (prevention of unauthorized duplication of copyrighted material).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:19am

    interoperability

    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?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
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    Dirk Belligerent (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 8:39am

    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.

     

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  50.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:32am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "It may be "better" coffee, but there's no way in hell it's 18 times better."

    Plus, you have the flexibility to just buy better coffee for your machine if you wish. You can buy any coffee you wish, and even if you went really high-end (better than anything in a K-cup), you'd still pay less.

     

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  51.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 9:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    This oddly rings true if you substitute other DRM'd products for coffee... and yes, it's the reason DRM doesn't work -- at some point, the DRM removes more value from the product than obtaining it by other means costs (in terms of money, morals, etc.).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
    identicon
    Me, Aug 29th, 2014 @ 10:34am

    Re: DMCA?

    Exactly what copyrighted material is being copied?

    Copyright applies to words, not coatings. The coating may be patented, but I don't think it can be copyrighted; therefore, the DMCA is not applicable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
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    BernardoVerda (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 4:07pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
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    BernardoVerda (profile), Aug 29th, 2014 @ 5:10pm

    Re: Re: interoperability

    Found an example of something like this :

    Sega v. Accolade
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sega_v._Accolade

    SEGA didn't lose it's trademark, but since use was necessary to run Genesis-compatible games, the court found use of the trademark for such "functional" purposes to be permissible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
    identicon
    Peter Henry, Aug 31st, 2014 @ 6:46pm

    Interoperability, DCMA and the CAFC

    The Chamberlain Group, Inc. v. Skylink Technologies, Inc., 381 F.3d 1178 (Fed. Cir. 2004)

    Unless making coffee is a "copyrightable process", I think that Keurig is going to have a really hard time invoking the DCMA with regard to their new cups.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 3rd, 2014 @ 6:01am

    Re: Seen this before...

    You don't think all printer companies do this?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  57.  
    identicon
    azppmd, Sep 4th, 2014 @ 12:26am

    Permanent fix / hack to allow usage of ANY K-Cup

    Permanent fix to allow usage of ANY K-Cup.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPIQVjusFmQ

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  58.  
    identicon
    Doug, Nov 28th, 2014 @ 6:29pm

    Re: Re: Breaking the DRM

    WHAT?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  59.  
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    Robert (profile), Jan 3rd, 2015 @ 10:57am

    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.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  60.  
    identicon
    Stephanie Manley, Jan 5th, 2015 @ 10:09am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I loved your response. I actually ditched my Keurig last year as well. I opted for a higher end machine at home. I wanted to kick the Starbucks habit too.

    I bought a higher end espresso machine, no pods. Love it, I can use any type of coffee I want, and still get the fancy coffee drink at home.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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