* Patent office upholds patent for Nespresso machine
* Nespresso is Nestle’s fastest-growing big brand
LAUSANNE, Switzerland, April 19 (Reuters) - Nestle has won a case against rivals, including Sara Lee, at the European Patent Office (EPO) concerning its fast-growing Nespresso coffee machines and capsules.
“It is a positive decision for Nespresso so we are very satisfied,” Nespresso chief executive Richard Girardot told journalists at Nestle’s annual shareholders meeting.
He declined to comment on the detail ahead of publication of the full decision, expected next week.
The EPO confirmed it has upheld a Nestle patent issued in 2010 concerning the way Nespresso capsules fit its machines, with minor modifications, spokesman Rainer Osterwalder said, adding the ruling could be appealed.
“The patent may stand but in an amended form,” Osterwalder said. “The essential part of the invention has not been touched by the limitations.”
Switzerland-based Nestle is by far the world’s biggest coffee maker with a 22 percent share, underpinned by its half share of the instant market.
The George Clooney-marketed system has proved a hit with espresso coffee lovers across Europe and is Nestle’s fastest-growing big brand, with underlying sales growth of 20-40 percent a year and sales of 3.5 billion Swiss francs in 2011.
It competes against systems including Tassimo by Kraft and Senseo by Sara Lee. It has also fought legal battles against companies trying to sell discount coffee capsules compatible with its machines.