Simmons grinds out Kraft win in Sara Lee coffee pod patent dispute

Simmons & Simmons’ IP group has teamed up with the in-house IP lawyers at Kraft Food to win a crucial patent victory at the European Patent Office (EPO).

After a bitter five-year patent dispute between Kraft and competing food manufacturer Sara Lee, the technical board of appeal at the EPO struck out Sara Lee’s patent on coffee pods for the Philips Senseo coffee machine.

For the case, Simmons seconded senior associate Marc Döring to Kraft to temporarily fill the newly created role of European head of patents. Döring worked with IP partner Jeremy Morton on the case. This gave Simmons the unique position of being both in-house counsel and external legal adviser.

The EPO’s technical board rarely invalidates its own patents.

“It’s very difficult to knock out a patent at the EPO,” said Döring. “It’s even harder to do so on the grounds that the patent is obvious, or not inventive.”

The decision to revoke Sara Lee’s patent on coffee pods could potentially be worth millions as Kraft gears up to exploit the lucrative coffee market. Kraft owns coffee brands such as Carte Noire, Kenco and Maxwell House.

Simmons also worked with German IP specialists Hoffman Eitle and instructed Andrew Waugh QC at Three New Square. Sara Lee used Dutch firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek.