Eversys SA is making a name for itself with its professional coffee machines from Valais – thanks partly to four key patents. Co-founder and engineer Robert Bircher talked to us about when patent protection is needed and what he did wrong when he filed his first patent application.
Robert Bircher ist Mitgründer der Eversys SA und hat zahlreiche Erfindungen zum Patentschutz angemeldet. Copyright: Eversys
Robert Bircher has gained substantial experience with patents over the years. As a Swiss entrepreneur with a degree in engineering, he has built up several companies, including the Swiss firm Eversys S.A., which is headquartered in Sierre. During his time at the company, he was primarily responsible for developing and producing professional automatic coffee machines.
Today, four key patents protect the Eversys Barista coffee machine, which makes barista-quality coffee. Founded in 2009, the company has a staff of over 300. It has been part of the De’Longhi Group since 2021 following a succession agreement. Bircher continues to help out with the handover on a part-time basis and thus retains his links to the company.
Was fascinates you about coffee machines?
I drink a lot of coffee. But nowadays, I don’t need more than three to five cups a day. I used to have ten or more. I probably got that from my mother, who also drank copious amounts of coffee. It all started when I was helping out in our Italian neighbours’ garden. The family had an espresso machine, and I saw a filter holder for the first time. The woman wanted to give me lemonade, but I insisted on having an espresso. It caused a stir in the village that a kid was drinking coffee. In any case, that was what triggered my fascination with coffee and machines.
In 2009, you and your business partner invented a machine that fully mirrors how a barista makes coffee. At the time that was a unique approach, and it didn’t go unnoticed in the industry.
We quickly realised that we needed protection, as just one week after we founded our company, we received a letter from a competitor’s attorney. He explained that they were watching us very closely and that they would take immediate action in case of any patent infringement. If we hadn’t worried about protection before, we did then. Finding a niche in the coffee industry with our invention was our “Big Bang”. Previously, manufacturers had produced automatic machines or traditional coffee makers. No one had ever combined the two. It was therefore all the more important to protect our expertise. There are four key patents in the coffee machine, and they are still in force. We filed them knowing that we were being watched very closely. And at that point, I had already learned from the mistakes I made in my first patent adventure.
Please tell us more.
Some years previously, I submitted an invention for patent protection without giving it much thought. I drew up the patent specification myself and only filed for protection in Switzerland. It also turned out that there was hardly any market for the innovation. A patent attorney would probably have prevented the unnecessary patent, and searches would have shown that the invention was insufficiently protected. That first patent experience taught me a lot. As a result, we’ve worked with a patent attorney since we founded Eversys. He takes charge of patenting inventions. We also draw up the patent specification with him to avoid errors. What’s more, he keeps an eye on the market for patents that could present a risk to us. This approach has paid off.
How many patents does Eversys own?
Practically 80. Patent management has become very important. We review the portfolio every year and ask ourselves the following questions: When does it make sense to renew a patent? Which patents are essential to protect our market and fend off competitors? And which can we allow to lapse? Maintaining patents is very expensive, so it makes sense to review the portfolio regularly.
What do you do differently from before in terms of patent protection?
We monitor the market more intensively. Freedom-to-operate (FTO) searches are very important. They allow us to ensure that we aren’t encroaching on someone else’s territory and that the road is clear for us. Of course, we’re always watching out for new developments, and not just in our area.
Competitors aren’t necessarily pleased to see new providers. Especially when they disrupt existing markets, as Eversys has done. Have you been involved in lots of conflicts?
To date, we haven’t had to warn off any competitors whose inventions have come too close to our patents. Our key patents are quite simply very good. An innovation can result in big-name clients suddenly adopting the product and abandoning their previous manufacturer. We found this out once before the start of a trade fair.
A competitor wanted to intimidate us with preliminary legal measures. That was a very strategic move. If they had succeeded, we would have had to close our stand. We offered the company ‘open-door’ access to examine everything that it felt infringed its rights. After that, we didn’t hear any more about it. Our attorney was with us at the start of the trade fair just in case, but nothing happened. Our competitors have taken note of us, and some of them are fierce fighters.
Tips on patents from entrepreneur Robert Bircher
Keep an eye on the market: Search the market continuously for new patents that might be too similar to yours. A patent law firm, for example, could do this for you.
Take every patent seriously: A patent is no guarantee of success. It can always be attacked by competitors, especially after publication. Assume that you may have overlooked a detail. Don’t feel too secure. Take every third-party patent seriously.
Searches are absolutely essential: If we file a patent for Eversys, we first carry out intensive searches to determine what technologies are currently known. That way, we can see whether our invention can really be patented. And we can find out whether our innovation is encroaching on third-part territory and whether there is a risk of conflict. The aim is to be able to make a market impact with the patented product.
Don’t skimp on protection: I’m regularly in contact with young entrepreneurs. They’re bubbling with optimism, but their IP rights often don’t have enough substance. By this I mean that their patents lack quality, for example. They patent an invention just so that it’s patented. But the resulting protection only applies to a tiny aspect of their invention. It doesn’t cover the entire area that would be necessary for optimum protection. Competitors can thus happily ignore their patent.
Involve professionals: A patent attorney should take charge of filing the patent application. They know what wording is crucial in a patent specification. Getting it right is vital. Every word counts.
Weigh up the benefits: A brilliant invention is not of much benefit if it can’t be put into practice.