Although often unable to order McDonald's cream and elusive soft service have long been a common struggle for ice cream lovers everywhere, the fast-food giant may face more than just strong opposition from customers to its malfunctioning ice cream machine. It now finds itself at the center of a legal battle driven by soft services.
According to a report in Wired magazine, problems related to inadequate machines began in May of last year. It was then that technology startup Kytch-which developed a device to help McDonald's franchisees solve the problem of picky soft-service machines-sued Taylor, the company that made these devices. Kytch's lawsuit accused Taylor of imitating their machine monitoring equipment in an attempt to bankrupt them. Now, new court documents show that Taylor not only deliberately imitated the technology of competing companies, but also obeyed McDonald's own requirements.
Although many customers who are tired of McDonald's have long believed that the "broken" machine is actually the worker's reluctance to operate the soft ice cream dispenser, this may not be easy. According to the "Wall Street Journal" report, many franchisees report that these machines are often damaged and repairs are complicated and require professional technicians to repair them.
The Federal Trade Commission was so shocked by the frequency of machine damage that the agency investigated the malfunctioning equipment on its own. Part of the reason for this investigation was Kytch’s lawsuit, which accused Taylor of obstructing the franchise owner’s basic right to repair his equipment.
After launching a Kytch device designed to intercept data from Taylor's ice cream machines in 2019, McDonald's moved quickly to prevent the use of the tool (via WIRED). Corporate sent a memo to franchisees in the fall of 2020, urging them to immediately stop using Kytch's products on the grounds that it is accessing "proprietary data." Instead, McDonald's recommended Taylor's own new Shake Sundae Connectivity device. Very convenient, it can only be used with upgraded machines.
In the lawsuit, Kytch accused Taylor of deliberately stealing their technology for use in their own, less effective Shake Sundae Connectivity. Melissa Nelson, Kytch’s co-founder, claimed, “We work together not only to acquire and copy our equipment and track everything we do, but when it reaches a tipping point, it actually makes us bankrupt.”
Now, e-mails subpoenaed by Taylor in the lawsuit show that the ice cream maker not only deliberately copied Kytch, but that McDonald's may have a greater role in the plan than previously thought (via The Wall Street Journal).
In an email in 2019, current Taylor COO Jim Minard (then vice president of engineering) instructed a staff member to “purchase the [Kytch] kit and provide me with a written evaluation of the hardware and software.” Minard said, Taylor has been working on troubleshooting machines for many years. However, other emails indicate that Taylor executives are trying to imitate Kych's interface. Taylor President Jeremy Dobrowolski said in an email in 2020 that "McDonald's is very hot" regarding Kytch's growing influence in its franchise.
A McDonald’s spokesperson insisted that the chain’s mission is “food quality and safety, which is why all equipment in McDonald’s restaurants is thoroughly reviewed before being approved for use”, adding that no attempt was made to “copy or steal Kytch’s technology" (via wire). However, the legal drama about the moody machine is unlikely to be resolved soon, although these emails may not necessarily help the fast-food giant’s case. Unfortunately, for the average McDonald’s customer, this may mean more "broken" ice cream machines.