Cathie Anderson: Coffee roasters ready to rumble in appeals court


Buyers of Keurig’s one-cup brewing systems have wandering eyes, and the company is appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to keep one Lincoln-based roaster’s coffee out of customers’ hands.

A mountain of documents are piling up in the circuit court as Keurig appeals a district court’s ruling that Rogers Family Coffeehad not infringed on K-Cup patents. Rogers sells the San Francisco Bay brand in what it calls OneCup containers. Rogers’ product has a mesh pod, while Keurig uses a plastic cup. The Boston judge ruled that the two products were plainly dissimilar and concluded that, once customers buy the coffeemaker, they have the right to choose which product they use.

It’s an argument that San Francisco patent attorney Dan Johnson is making again on behalf of Rogers, and it’s one that he believes will hold weight with the Federal Circuit since judges in that court ruled in favor of a single-serving container made by another coffee roaster. Keurig does not comment on pending litigation.

After looking over the briefs filed so far in the case, Sacramento attorney Andrew Stroudof Hanson Bridgett told me that Rogers makes the more persuasive case.

“If I buy a copy of a book, if I pay the copyright owner for the book, and if I read it and then decide to give it away to my neighbor for Christmas, that’s my own business,” Stroud said. “The copyright owner has paid for it. And, that’s what they’re saying here. It’s essentially the same. The coffeemaker owner paid you for the patent, and if they decide to put somebody else’s coffee in it rather than yours because they like somebody else’s coffee better, then that’s their own business.”

Stroud said the Keurig v. Rogers battle really brings home the impact of patent law on the average person, and it shows how much weight these cases have on consumer choice and business’s market share. By late last summer, Rogers and other competitors had gained 11 percent of the market share for single-serve container sales, and analysts say that number is growing. A key reason may be that Rogers and Canada’s Canterbury Coffee are now marketing biodegradable containers. The OneCup BIO relieves consumers of that twinge of guilt at sending plastic to landfills.