Monday, 16 February 2009

Worst case of intellectual property theft

How hard is it to steal the idea of an Egg McMuffin? Do you need to be Dr Evil in order to turn out a counterfeit McMuffin that actually has similar properties to the real thing? Like hold-togetherness and taste?

One of the companies that I am enslaved to has a cafe on site. Not that it's got the ambiance of a French cafe - all the workers are disgruntled, overweight women in their 50's, and they are as friendly and customer focused as East German Border Guards.

They sell two types of food before 11am - those that are lumps of sugar encrusted with more sugar, and your more traditional fat, lard, salt and protein combination. Kransky sausages that have shrivelled to half their original size whilst baking in the bain-marie overnight are a crowd favourite. The only other thing for sale is a blatant McMuffin rip-off. Except that they have utterly failed to reproduce the key quality of the original McMuffin - you can guarantee that none of it will end up on your expensive business shirt and tie. Can you imagine how annoying it is to start the day with a crisply laundered and ironed 100% cotton shirt, matched with an expensive silk tie, only to have egg yolk drip onto both?

If there is one thing McDonald's does well, it is the fact that almost all their food is drip-free. Sure, that results in ketchup so thick that it can double for sealing cracks in your bathroom, but you don't see many aggro people walking out of Maccas trying to rub a stain off their clothes.

The great McMuffin ripoff has resulted in a glutinous breakfast item that is the most wretched example of intellectual property theft that I can imagine. They stole the idea, but not the cheese. They obviously haven't studied the essential properties of the McMuffin to the extent that I have, and I can tell you that the secret is the cheese. It is a loathsome yellow slab of stuff that is as far removed from cows as I am from iguanas, but it performs the cardinal role of binding the ingredients together. It looks like glue and tastes like glue because it is glue. I've never sat down in McDonald's, opened my newspaper and taken a bite of a McMuffin and suddenly discovered that 80% of my breakfast has slid out from between the toasted thingys and ended up sitting on page 1 of the newspaper. McDonald's have invested a lot of time and effort into inventing a glue that looks and tastes something like cheese, and they've been very successful.

The hilarious thing is where this cafe is located. A multi-billion dollar multi-national behemoth inhabits this particular building, and they sell billions of dollars of goods and services to governments around the world - and their food department can't even reverse engineer something as simple as breakfast. Is it any wonder that so many government projects end up being years over due, way over budget and never deliver what was originally asked for?

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