The Keurig machine—that handy gadget that produces one perfectly portioned cup of coffee—has 37 patents. Two of those integral patents expire this September, opening the simple but legally exclusive technology behind K-Cup coffee pods to retailers that want to produce their own, cheaper versions. Keurig's parent company, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, prepared a two-pronged defense: Partner with popular coffee companies (such as Folgers and Dunkin' Donuts) to make branded K-Cups, and introduce the Vue, a new, fancy espresso machine that comes complete with a Starbucks alliance. To understand how important this is to Green Mountain—and how attractive it is to everyone else—just look at the rapid growth of single-serve revenue.
A version of this article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.