The long-running story of the Nespresso capsule has taken yet another unexpected turn. A British company has announced that for the first time, users of the system can now have access to capsules compatible with the system, because the Nespresso patent has expired – but at almost the same time, Nespresso has claimed that the European Patent Office has upheld a vital patent which protects the brand against such compatibles.
The new company is the Espresso Coffee Club, run by Oliver Wiley of Fakenham in Norfolk, who has launched with the statement that owners of bars, restaurants, hotels, pubs and cafes can ‘for the first time have a real alternative to the dominance of the Nespresso coffee capsule’, at considerably lower prices. The business works on a ‘club’ concept, in which purchases earn points against future orders.
There have been several other capsules on the market, sold as ‘Nespresso-compatible’, and there have been major legal fights over the matter in the European courts. There is also currently on the market a product which allows the user to refill a compatible capsule with their own favourite coffee, for use in a Nespresso machine.
Questioned about Nespresso’s complaints against any company which tries to make compatible capsules, the Espresso Coffee Club replied:
“In regards to the patent, now it has lapsed it is OK to have Nespresso-compatible capsules, and the Espresso Coffee Club is the UK’s first Nespresso-compatible capsule company, offering consumers for the first time a real alternative to the Nespresso brand, with similar quality. Like Nespresso, the Espresso Coffee Capsules are made in Switzerland, and are a very high quality, though a lot cheaper.”
The new company has created six coffee blends, all of which roughly equate to similar ones in the Nespresso range, although under different names. Most are Arabica-Robusta blends, although one involves a Malabar from India, and there is also a decaf.
Meanwhile, Nestlé is reported to have ‘claimed a victory’ as the European Patent Office upheld a patent that protects the Nespresso coffee system from compatible capsules made by other companies.
This is more complex than it sounds – Nestle has 1700 patents covering the system, and although some do indeed expire this year, unraveling the details has turned out to be a lawyer’s paradise. Three major European manufacturers and a big Swiss retail chain have been involved in a continuing legal battle in which decisions have already swung both ways on appeal.
The long-running story is complex – not least that the original inventor of the system is the founder of one of the rival compatible-capsule companies, and a second rival company is run by someone who headed Nespresso for ten years.
By Nestlé’s own estimation, fifty other companies have now entered the generic single-serve capsule market, which is generally acknowledged to be the major growth sector of the coffee industry.