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Can Giving Away Ideas For Free Be Valuable?

If you had a unique concept, product or design that you knew would make you or your company a large sum of money, would you give it away for free to save lives or to save the Planet?

Well thats exactly what Volvo did in 1959, Nils Bohlin redesigned the two-point waist restraint into the three-point seatbelt we use today. This revolutionary invention would have made a fortune on patents alone for Volvo, but they felt that it was too significant not to share. So thats what they did. Volvo gave the patent away for free as it had more value as a free life saving tool than an invention to profit from.

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“It is impossible to guess exactly how many lives have been saved by the seatbelt design. But Volvo suggest it’s millions of people worldwide.”

Now it seems another free patent will be given out by Starbucks and McDonald’s. They may be going head to head in the world of take-away coffee but the two brands have recently decided to join forces and pool their resources in hopefully finding a sustainable cup solution.

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The ultimate aim for the unlikely partnership is to construct and implement a fully recyclable and compostable cup within the next three years. This sustainable cup initiative will not stop at just replacing the cup, but its aim is to discover a solution for the lid and straw as well.

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“We’re looking at this as a pre-competitive opportunity. How can we work together to solve a problem that’s an issue for society, for the environment.”
— McDonald’s Chief Supply Chain, Marion Gross

The open initiative is called the NextGen Cup Challenge. Innovators, large or small, are invited to come up with solutions that can replace today’s cups. It was launched by Starbucks with the earth-friendly innovation and investment firm Closed Loop Partners. Now, McDonald’s is joining in, with Marion Gross, the McDonald’s chief supply chain officer saying, ‘We’re looking at this as a pre-competitive opportunity. How can we work together to solve a problem that’s an issue for society, for the environment.

Combined, McDonald’s and Starbucks distribute 4% of the world’s 600 billion cups and while their existing cups are recyclable, they rarely are and both brands hope to change the way cups are used and disposed of. This union is unprecedented in the fast-food industry especially in its focus on ecological change. Starbucks has donated $5 million to the fund, which McDonald’s has since  matched. Additionally, they hope their well-known reputation and brand recognition may be an incentive to other companies that are ready to join them to innovate a better cup.

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So If Starbucks and McDonalds are successful in their endeavour it would potentially mean that their 24 billion cups globally would be recyclable and provide a free blue print for other coffee cup manufacturers to replicate the better cup. It will create a significant long lasting impact for the better, on the effect that fast food packaging has on our environment. An impact that Starbucks and McDonalds could have tried to monetize or keep exclusive to their own brand. But brand favour is more valuable in the long term for us all.