As the pressure builds on McDonald's from the healthy eating brigade and the anti-capitalist campaigners, it has started the fight back with the bold step of attempting to patent the sandwich. What the Earl of Sandwich would make of McDonald's attempt to muscle in on the creation of this bastion of lunches and picnic baskets the world over isn't clear but if truth be told it is not the sandwich itself that McDonald's is attempting to patent but rather its own particular, highly automated way of making them.

McDonald's has filed patents in Europe and the United States in which it describes in colourful detail the method by which favourites such as the Big Mac are prepared. This process includes "simultaneous toasting of a bread component" and "the pre-assembly of sandwich components", all delivered by means of the "sandwich assembly tool".

Those fearing that the days of preparing a humble cheese and pickle bloomer are numbered can breath a sigh of relief as McDonald's has made it clear, in an interview with the Metro newspaper, that its patent applications "are not intended to prevent anyone from using previous methods for making sandwiches."