Why Inventiveness is Crucial to a Patentable Invention – the story of the Bialetti coffee machine

Simone Giacobbe

The story of the Bialetti coffee machine

The second in our “IP for SME’s” series, Simone Giacobbe takes a look at the Bialetti coffee machine and how its intellectual property protection has enabled this invention to fend off counterfeits and competitors for the last 70 years.

One essential aspect for an invention to be patentable is that it must be … inventive!

No invention better explains this only apparently trivial feature than what Mr Bialetti invented in Italy in the thirties: the now iconic Bialetti coffee machine.

Alfonso Bialetti was an Italian entrepreneur, owner of what we now call an SME in Verbania, on the Piedmont side of Lake Maggiore: Alfonso Bialetti & Co, an aluminium foundry.

In those days, the washing machine had not yet been invented, and the women in the region (and not only) used the lessiveuse (stay tuned!) to wash white laundry, using ashes as detergent: I remember it from my grandmother’s kitchen.

Adapting and Innovating

Imagine a large pot with a hollow tube in the middle and a reservoir at the bottom: water and ashes in the reservoir were brought to boiling, and the resulting pressure pushed the (strongly alkali) water up the tube. At the top of the tube was a sprinkler which sprinkled the hot water over the laundry. It was Alfonso’s idea to adapt that tool used to wash laundry and make a machine to quickly brew coffee at home, at a time when not everyone could enjoy the luxury of going to the bar for breakfast. That machine is still used today by many coffee aficionados: there is nothing comparable to the smell of freshly brewed coffee filling the kitchen, an experience that involves all the senses!

A Design for the Ages

Alfonso patented his invention in 1933, with Luigi da Ponti as co-inventor. The invention enjoyed immediate success, also because in those years coffee consumption in Italy grew exponentially after the conquest of Ethiopia by the Italian troops in 1936.

Then came the war, and the Moka machine (so called for the port coffee came from, the city of Mokha in Yemen) was forgotten: people simply had other worries, and the factory had to shut down.

In 1950 Alfonso’s son, Renato, relaunched the Moka machine with the help of intensive advertising, also using the new means of mass communication: radio and TV. To this end, he also had the machine re-engineered and re-designed, and for the new Moka a new patent was issued in 1950 (IT 34833).

With success came what always comes: counterfeits! To fend off, the Bialettis had the now iconic logo drawn by designer Paul Campani, “the man with the moustache” (Renato himself? Maybe…).

The Moka machine is now exhibited in МoМА and Smithsonian Design Museums in NY and in the Science and Design Museums in London.

The Importance of Robust IP Protection

Would this success story have been the same without proper IP right protection? Patents for the technique, design for the optical appeal and trademarks to quickly defend against counterfeiters were essential to make the Moka what it has been for 70 years. A brilliant idea is nothing if it is not adequately protected, even more today in our globalised world.

And now we can answer the question why Bialetti’s invention is “inventive”: inventiveness comes from the ingenious idea of technically adapting an object used to wash laundry to devise an object for quickly and inexpensively brewing coffee at home.

Buon caffè a tutti!

Protecting your Intellectual Property

If you have an inventive idea that needs protecting, speak to a specialist. Trusted by innovators and businesses for over 45 years, Murgitroyd can help you to realise and protect the true value of your assets. To find out how we could help you, or to simply find out more, get in touch with us