The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) of Atlanta, GA, is a multinational corporation focused on the manufacture and sale of various beverage products, especially nonalcoholic beverage concentrates and syrups. It was founded in 1886 and is one of the companies included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Coca-Cola is a company that has a focus on innovation that goes beyond the ability to create better tasting sodas or carbonated beverages. For example, Coke is working to ensure that 100,000 of its vending machines all over North America will be enabled to accept Apple Pay for drink purchases by the end of 2015. Coke’s vending machines have actually been the recipient of a great deal of R&D investment in recent years as the company has developed machines that respond to customer gestures or even interact with other vending machine customers located hundreds of miles away. The company’s External Technology Assessment and Acquisition (ETA) program is one way that Coca-Cola has identified important technologies for acquisition, such as Lumense’s nano sensing technology that enables Coke to detect any contamination in the CO2 gas used to carbonate its beverages.
As a member of the DJIA, Coca-Cola inhabits a fairly important area of our nation’s economy. In its most recent quarterly earnings report, Coke indicated that its global volume grew by about two percent during the 2014 fiscal year and enjoyed a full-year cash from operations increase to $10.6 billion. Stockholders in the company received good news in late February when the corporation announced that it had approved a dividend increase for the 53rd consecutive year, up to a $1.32 share. The company is also attempting a major brand restructuring for its European products that would unite all of its flagship brands, from Coca-Cola to Coke Life, into a unified brand architecture.
Coke pursues innovation but doesn’t treat every one of its discoveries as patentable. For example, Coke has never patented its recipe and has instead treated it as a trade secret for over 100 years. Even though the company did not place on the IFI Claims list for the top 50 U.S. patent earners during 2014, the company has been consistently earning patent grants from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The company only received 50 patents during 2014 according to our research using Innography’s patent portfolio analysis tools. The text cluster here shows us Coca0Cola was greatly focused on beverage dispensers. It’s interesting to note some R&D related to fruit pursued by this company.
Coca-Cola’s Issued Patents: From Juice Dispensers to Artificially Sweetened Cereals
Some of the more recent patents that have been issued to Coca-Cola disclose improvements to sweeteners utilized by the company in its various products. A type of artificial sweetener that overcomes some of the negative health benefits of sugar while overcoming some of the taste deficiencies of other sweeteners is the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8945652, entitled High-Potency Sweetener for Weight Management and Compositions Sweetened Therewith. It claims a functional sweetener composition that includes rebaudioside A, erythritol and a functional ingredient that is a sweet taste improving composition selected from a group including kola nut, yerba mate, green tea, guarana or myrrh. The artificial sweetener protected here has a reduced caloric content, a weight management agent and a more sugar-like flavor and temporal profile.
A very similar innovation was spotted in the pages of U.S. Patent No. 8962058, entitled High-Potency Sweetener Composition with Antioxidant and Compositions Sweetened Therewith. The functional sweetener composition of this invention includes the mixture of rebaudioside A and erythritol with a functional agent, but in this invention the functional agent is an antioxidant and not a weight management agent. The resulting product is an artificial sweetener that, again, more closely approximates the taste of sugar while providing antioxidant benefits for suppressing oxidative damage to the cells of a drinker’s body.
As we noted above, beverage dispensing is a major area of Coca-Cola research and development as it tries to get its products into the hands of more consumers. U.S. Patent No. 8960500, which is titled Dispenser for Beverages Including Juices, claims a beverage dispenser for combining a number of micro-ingredients, one or more macro-ingredients and a plurality of water streams. The dispenser itself is made up of a micro-mixing chamber for mixing micro-ingredients with a water stream, an agitating macro-mixing chamber for mixing macro-ingredients with the micro-ingredient stream and a nozzle. The invention is intended to reduce the footprint size of a juice dispensing machine, which typically requires a large storage space for juice concentrates, and overcomes issues related to unpleasant tastes caused by a poorly diluted concentrate. Chest coolers holding Coke products near checkout aisles at retail establishments all over the world are at the center of U.S. Patent No. 8925338, issued under the title Chest Cooler. The patent discloses a chest cooler with an outer frame within which are vertically arranged a plurality of product compartments, a horizontal upper door and a front door having a transparent panel; all of the cooler products can be seen through the transparent panel and are accessible through either the upper or the front door. The invention is designed to drive more impulse purchases by enabling customers to see available beverages at a glance while providing a compact construction and high-energy efficiency.
What really intrigued us today was the fact that we spotted a couple of patents protecting innovations that have nothing to do with beverages at all and are instead focused on foodstuffs. U.S. Patent No. 8940351, which is titled Baked Goods Comprising High-Potency Sweetener, claims a baked good containing a sweetener comprising rebaudioside A and erythritol, the two ingredients seen in the artificial sweetener developments from earlier in this section. The invention provides a selective modification to the taste of baked goods by using a natural high-potency sweetener to replace sugar while maintaining a sugar taste profile. Another similar invention involving artificial sweeteners in foods is the subject of U.S. Patent No. 8940350, which is titled Cereal Compositions Comprising High-Potency Sweeteners. It claims a cereal composition containing rebaudioside A, erythritol and at least one cereal ingredient that is selected from a group containing wheat, rice, barley, maize, buckwheat, millet, oat or quinoa. Again, this invention seeks to replace high caloric content sugars like sucrose or glucose used in food production, in this case cereal, with artificial sweeteners that have a better taste profile to reduce the caloric content of food. Interestingly, all four of these patents related to improved artificial sweeteners were developed by the same pair of inventors working for Coca-Cola: Indra Prakash of Alpharetta, GA, and Grant E. Dubois of Roswell, GA.
Patent Applications of Note: From Interactive Vending Machines to Repairing Reusable Bottles
We were glad to be able to pick out some innovations regarding vending machines which were featured in a couple of patent applications that we wanted to share with our readers today. A vending machine with greater product visibility is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140367403, simply titled Vendor. It discloses a product vending module for vending a plurality of products which is comprised of a product row that contains a number of products, a rotatable product gate situated above the product row with both a closed position and an open position for allowing a product to be removed and a product locking system utilizing a locking pin assembly which is in communication with the product gate. This invention was designed to meld the visibility of glass door coolers with the control of product removal offered by vending machines. A more personalized interaction between a customer and a vending machine is outlined within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150039776, titled Facilitating Individualized User Interaction with an Electronic Device. The patent application discloses a method of facilitating an individualized interaction with an electronic device by receiving an identity of the electronic device at a mobile computing device, sending data regarding the mobile computing device to a server and initiating an individualized interaction with the electronic device via a previously established communication session between the server and the electronic device. In this way, a vending machine can provide a user with suggestions based upon their past preferences pertaining to beverages or products.
Coca-Cola is also hoping to protect some innovations in the field of beverage customization. A technique for providing consumers with mixed beverages that is more precise than eyeballing the amount of beverage dispensed is featured within U.S. Patent Application No. 20150046877, entitled Dynamically Adjusting Ratios of Beverages in a Mixed Beverage. The method of dynamically adjusting ratios for mixed beverages claimed here involves receiving a plurality of beverage selections from a user interface menu, displaying a representation of a mixed beverage comprised of assigned ratios of the selected beverages, receiving an input to adjust a ratio associated with at least one beverage, adjusting that assigned ratio, automatically adjusting the ratio assigned to other selected beverages and displaying the representation of the adjusted ratio beverage. This technology could be incorporated into a beverage dispenser for the creation of mixed or blended beverages. A greater number of consumer options regarding the color of the drink they wish to purchase is the subject of U.S. Patent Application No. 2014036105, which is titled Method and Apparatus for Providing a Selectable Beverage. This patent application claims a method for providing a beverage from a post-mix beverage dispensing system by providing at least two beverages to dispense from the dispensing system, providing a user interface, receiving a selected blended beverage comprising at least two beverages selected from the user interface and automatically dispensing the blended beverage through a single faucet. The invention is intended to allow those buying a drink to select a coloration for their beverage that isn’t based solely upon its flavor.
Food safety is also at the forefront of Coca-Cola’s recently R&D activity. A method for preventing spoilage in this company’s drink products are described within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140377444, filed under the title In-Bottle Pasteurization. The patent application would protect a packaged food article or beverage that includes a consumer package, a processed food composition including a spoilage microorganism and a liquid within a predetermined temperature range which is applied to the processed food composition to form a mixture in the consumer package, causing the spoilage microorganism to be substantially inactivated. This pasteurization process is intended to be performed upon beverages consisting of juice and pulp to improve pulp pasteurization efficiency while preventing the destruction or maceration of pulp for high-pulp products. A similar pasteurization process for bottled beverages is the focus of Coca-Cola’s U.S. Patent Application No. 20140377443, titled System and Method for Producing a Food Article or Beverage Using In-Bottle Pasteurization. It would protect a method for producing a packaged food article or beverage by processing a first food source including a spoilage microorganism along a first processing path that lowers the food source’s temperature, which inactivates the spoilage microorganism, processing a second food source along a second processing path that heats the second food source, which also inactivates spoilage microorganisms, and then filling a package with both food sources while both are in their predetermined temperature range. By using a heated liquid to pasteurize the pulp, this system achieves reduced manufacturing costs as the pulp isn’t required to be separately pasteurized.
Finally, we were intrigued by a technology developed by Coca-Cola that enables the renewable use of bottle containers used to hold drink products. U.S. Patent Application No. 20150054203, which is titled Repair of Refillable or Reusable Polymer-Based Packaging, claims a method for repairing a polymeric packaging material by providing a polymeric packaging material with a scratched or scuffed exterior, adding fluid into the polymeric packaging material to at least partially fill the packaging with fluid and applying at least one heat source to the exterior of the packaging material to form a repaired polymeric packaging material. This technique supports the cost-effective repair of refillable bottles in a way that is environmentally friendly and adds more return cycles to the life of the bottle.