Automatic Bar Controls, Inc.’s (ABC) Autosaucer® recently made the news again when it was described as “the secret to Costco’s delicious pizza.”[1] A rotary pizza sauce dispensing system, the Autosaucer® features a turntable and robotic linear arm that distributes an even and consistent amount of sauce to dough, creating the perfect pizza each and every time. Operating under brand name “Wunder-Bar” and a subsidiary of global foodservice equipment leader The Middleby Corporation, California-based ABC is a leading manufacturer of food and beverage dispensing systems known for its innovation and custom product development.

So what inspired the Autosaucer®? And what steps did ABC take to protect its new invention and brand?

Conceived at 35,000 Feet

It all began more than 15 years ago with a great idea, an airplane trip, and a cocktail napkin. After several of the largest pizza chains approached ABC, now ABC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Jim Tuyls designed an innovative way to perfectly sauce a pizza, using automation. The quintessential inventor, Tuyls has developed many patented inventions throughout his career at ABC — the Autosaucer® being one of his greatest legacies. Initially drafted in-flight, Tuyls conceived a solution that improves quality and consistency, while increasing profits. “I am very proud of the Autosaucer®,” asserts Tuyls. “Not only does it satisfy some of the largest pizza operators’ need for a low cost, fast, and efficient pizza-making process, it also represents the high quality and uncompromising customer value synonymous with the ABC / Wunder-Bar brand.”

Enter the Patent Experts

Once developed, ABC turned to Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP — its go-to law firm for intellectual property — to safeguard its latest invention. More than 200 attorneys strong, Kilpatrick Townsend’s patent practice has earned international acclaim for creating and maintaining enforceable, meaningful patent portfolios that translate into valuable offensive and defensive business assets. To date, Kilpatrick Townsend has secured 176 U.S. patents, as well as their non-U.S. counterparts, for ABC.

Four Patent Families, Six Utility Patents

To protect all aspects of the Autosaucer®, Kilpatrick Townsend obtained six utility patents, covering four patent families (-0064, -0074, -0104, and -0105), using a well-designed and executed strategy over a six-year period.

Patent Family 0064

In 2002, Kilpatrick Townsend began the first of the series of filings — the 64th project handled for ABC. Initially, the firm filed a provisional, omnibus patent application, “Rotary Sauce Dispensing Apparatus,” to capture several concepts later pursued by three distinct patent applications filed in 2003: U.S. Patent No. 6,892,629 - “System for Pumping & Dispensing Sauce,” U.S. 6,892,901 - “Sauce Pumping Apparatus,” and U.S. 7,074,277 - “Rotary Sauce Dispensing Apparatus.” While each patent protects unique portions of the Autosaucer®, Kilpatrick Townsend strategically used common portions to describe the overall system for the three different patent applications. This allowed for drafting efficiencies, as well as exclusive rights for a unique set of patent claims, covering the different, unique portions.

Patent Family 0074

Next in mid-2003, the firm prepared a patent application to capture innovations in ABC’s unique sauce dispensing nozzle. U.S. Patent No. 6,969,015 - “Particulate Sauce Dispensing Nozzle” (issued in 2005) reduces clogging by sauce particulates by sensing the flow and making adjustments as needed to accommodate the presence of herbs and other ingredients in the sauce.

Patent Families 0104 & 0105

In 2008, Kilpatrick Townsend filed two more patents, capturing additional Autosaucer® enhancements and new sauce delivery sub-systems. Specifically, U.S. Patent No. 7,993,049 - “Turntable for On-Demand Mixing & Distributing of a Food Product” covers a turntable with an improved gripping device for coupling to a pan. The apparatus also includes a concentrated sauce vat, which couples to the mixing-pump device, and a concentrated sauce cassette, which also couples to the mixing-pump device. U.S. Patent No. 8,342,367 - “Cassette & Vat Supply Source for an On-Demand Mixing & Distributing of a Food Product” protects the cassette and supply systems for the pizza dispenser.

According to longtime ABC legal counsel and Kilpatrick Townsend Intellectual Property Partner Babak Kusha, “For more than 30 years, we’ve worked closely with ABC to fully understand its core technology and broader applications, while simultaneously learning its business objectives and its competition. Our collaborative approach, built on the utmost trust, has yielded strategic and comprehensive global patent portfolios that will protect and capitalize ABC’s business interests for years to come.”

From a Cocktail Napkin to an International Success

With the necessary patents in place, for the past 10 years, the Autosaucer® has taken the world by storm. Mesmerizing to watch, the Autosaucer® accurately sauces up to 1/10th of an ounce and handles different dough types up to 15 inches in diameter. Not only does it increase productivity, it also reduces labor by approximately 400 hours per year and cuts shipping costs in half. Since pizza sauce typically consists of 50 percent water, the Autosaucer®’s ability to automatically add water eliminates the need to ship “ready-to-use” sauce, while allowing pizza makers to create fresh sauce for every pizza.

With the success of the Autosaucer®, ABC has further enhanced its international brand recognition,[2] substantiated by significant, favorable publicity from multinational corporations like Costco, Little Caesars, Pizza Hut, and Six Flags. Tuyls concluded, “The success of the Autosaucer® still moves me. Who’d thought that a drawing on an airplane cocktail napkin would lead to such widespread acclaim?”