The Ethical Coffee Company (ECC) said this morning that Nespresso introduced a ‘harpoon mechanism’ to its machines in 2010 that stopped ECC’s capsules working properly, thereby (the firm claims) violating European Patent EP 2 312 978 B1, held by ECC.
Ethical Coffee Company demands that Nestle stop allleged 'illegal usage' of IP
Jean Paul Gaillard, ECC president, told this website today: "ECC patented the 'harpoon mechanism' way before Nestlé introduced them in their machines.
"So, the competitive hampering, from a dominant position, which was done via legal/commercial and technical means was – for the technical part – using ECC’s own IP," he added.
In a statement also released today, ECC said: “In view of the importance of respecting patents, more broadly called the respect for intellectual property, for the smooth functioning of the economy and of everyday consumption, Ethical Coffee Company demands that Nestle Group immediately stop this illegal usage and pay the necessary compensation."
But Nestlé Nespresso corporate PR director, Diane Duperret, told BeverageDaily.com this afternoon: "Nespresso is confident that it does not infringe the patent in question and will continue to oppose the patent at the European Patent Office and defend ourselves before the French Court."
Led by Gaillard – Nespresso CEO from 1988 to 1997 – ECC sells its capsules online, but also in private label format, branded for large French retailers Monoprix, Casino, Franprix and Leader Price.
The first of many legal battles?
Warning that it planned to launch further actions in other countries where it alleges a violation of the same patent has occurred, ECC added that it also planned further actions - in addition to today's claim brought at the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris - over different patents.
“Today, Ethical Coffee Company has implemented technical solutions to both maintain a gustatory advantage, as well as full compatibility of capsules with all Nespresso machines,” the company claimed.
ECC launched its Nespresso-compatible capsules in May 2010, a move it claimed today was consistent with the smooth working of the economy and consumer rights, as per the manufacture of third party cartridges for computer printers.
Today, ECC said, around 50 such rival capsules to Nespresso’s own exist worldwide, but insists its own are special. Not only does the company claim its capsules are superior to Nestle’s in terms of taste, it also claims they are fully biodegradable.
“Nestle/Nespresso still manufactures aluminum capsules. It is known that aluminum is a polluting material, and that its recycling, in the form of small closed capsules containing coffee will never really work,” ECC said.
But in a July 2014 document, 'Perfecting Our Packaging Solution', outlining its recycling approach, Nestlé Nespresso said it used aluminum as the best material to protect coffee flavor and aroma, and said the material was endlessly recyclable with no loss of quality.
Nespresso defends capsule sustainability
As of last July Nespresso said it had its own capsule collection systems in 27 countries and, at the end of 2013, had an estimated capsule collection capacity of 80% across 30 countries.
The same publication states that in 2011, life cycle assessment expert Quantis compared the environmental impact of three options to make an espresso coffee in a Nespresso machine and concluded that an aluminum capsule sent for recycling after use had a significantly smaller carbon footprint than alternatives studied.
Today’s legal move from ECC is the latest twist in a long-running legal battle with Nestle, and the former said it had successfully defended itself in actions brought by the multinational claiming infringement of patents relating to the Nespresso system.
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