“Bottles Up”- The Coca-Cola Story

by | Sep 5, 2018

Coca-Cola. The iconic American brand is recognized instantly around the globe and sold in more than 200 countries. Invented in the late 19th century by John Pemberton and rolled out by businessman Asa Griggs Candler, whose marketing prowess and dynamic tactics led Coca-Cola to its dominance of the world soft-drink market throughout the 20th century. The drink’s name refers to two of its original ingredients: coca leaves, and kola nuts (a source of caffeine). A possibly little-known fact about this beverage is that Coca-Cola does not have a patent on its recipe, part of its strategy to ensure that its secret formula remains undisclosed. A patent is a “limited right granted by the government to an inventor.” Thus, for the duration of that patent’s life, which is 20 years, the inventor has the sole right to sell, make, distribute, and license that product. However, after that patent’s time has run its course, the formula becomes available to the public. In 1893, Coca-Cola patented its original formula, but after the formula changed, it was not patented again.

The CocaCola Company asked bottle manufacturers to submit designs for a bottle for Coca-Cola that was so distinctive that it could be recognized by feel in the dark or identified lying broken on the ground.The design patent for Coca-Cola’s classic “Contour” bottle, or “Hobble skirt” bottle which celebrated its 103rd birthday in 2018 was originally conceptualized and subsequently patented in the year 1915 and was  one of the first glass containers ever to be patented based only on its unique shape. The distinct bottle design was said to have been modeled after an ingredient of Coca-Cola: the Cocoa Bean Pod, which has a similar bulging middle. In 1916, Coca-Cola debuted the patented bottle which would help distinguish them from competitors. [USD48160]. The asserted patent was in the middle of dispute when the Coca-Cola Co. sued the defendant for design patent infringement, the District court of Delaware ultimately dismissed the case. (Darts reference us-20 F.2d 261, darts-487-873-B-en).

The Coca-Cola Company produces concentrate, which is then sold to licensed Coca-Cola bottlers throughout the world. The bottlers, who hold exclusive territory contracts with the company, produce the finished product in cans and bottles from the concentrate, in combination with filtered water and sweeteners and other such combinations of required components. This chemical aspect of preparing the beverage has also been subjected to certain litigations as it is the beverage and the process behind it which has made Coca-Cola the most popular soft drink in the world. A patent (US2014272068A1) which involved methods for improving the sweetness of beverages using rare sugars was rejected by the USPTO [Darts Reference bpai_fd2017002065-11-15-2017-1, darts-469-386-E-en], also in this context another patent (US2008193616A1) which involved beverage compositions constituting components of different pH values whose rejection was reversed by the USPTO [Darts reference bpai_fd2011013134-01-18-2013-1, darts-810-125-A-en]. In another case it was decided that the Coca-Cola company was not infringing upon a patent (US2967778A) which described a method of extracting juice concentrates. [Darts Reference us-272 F. Supp. 441, darts-488-265-B-en].

Coca-Cola has long been one of the world’s most valuable brands. This is no coincidence or accident, but the result of decades of quality work not only on the business side, but especially in marketing, in other words we can safely say that the uniqueness of the Coca-Cola brand has been under construction since its very beginnings. Whether or not you enjoy this beverage, you must admit that world-class marketing is what makes Coca-Cola the world leader in creative communication and in occupying a place in history.

Cover photo credit: Basheer Tome under license Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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