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The Next Big Thing

Backers complain after Kickstarter-funded coffee machine start-up Arist delays delivery

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 May, 2015, 8:46am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 May, 2015, 7:30am

A Hong Kong coffee machine start-up and winner of a government-backed award has come under fire from its crowd funding backers for delays and lack of updates.

Arist, a coffee machine developed by Nbition Development Limited, raised more than US$850,000 through crowdfunding site Kickstarter but production delays for the machine promising barista-standard coffee have sparked a backlash from backers.

Backers said they were suspicious of the company’s failure to produce a video showing the machine in action as proof of its capabilities, while the company said it had produced two videos to backers’ specifications.

Benson Chiu, founder of Nbition, which won the 2015 Best ICT Start-up Grand Award, said releasing images of the machine ahead of securing patents would make the company unable to protect its intellectual property rights.

“The good part is [this] did not actually affect our progress, we are still on track on our new ship dates, we are still on track and we are willing to refund and that is actually a very big sign we are not fake,” Chiu said.

Nbition has offered refunds after it delayed shipping of the coffee machine, which is operated through a phone app and learns users' tastes and habits, from August to October as the company tweaks the design.

More than 3,000 Arist machines were ordered through Kickstarter with a further 25,000 pre-ordered directly from the company.

“Once [an invention] is publicly disclosed in the public domain, it’s known by everybody and is no longer novel. Something that is not novel cannot be patented,” said Sam Yip, a patent attorney with intellectual property firm Ella Cheong, who warned inventors against releasing videos publicly before filing patents.

Chiu said the company has applied for three patents and is preparing to submit three further applications.

It can take several months to file a short-term patent, which protects inventions for 8 years, said Alice Lee, an intellectual property specialist and assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong’s law department. An application for standard patent lasting 20 years can take up to two years to be granted.

Kickstarter backer Jake Moroshek, a graduate student in Minnesota who put down US$299 for a machine last November, is one of a number of customers who have voiced concerns.

“They had a very slick marketing video, my girlfriend needed a coffee machine, so I figured it would be a great, innovative, and affordable option,” Moroshek said, adding that his doubts developed when he spotted negative comments from backers in April.

“One of the biggest doubts about the Arist is that they promised a ton of features which physically wouldn't fit in the shell they have promised,” Moroshek said.

More than 84,000 projects have been launched through the Kickstarter crowd funding platform, with pledges by 8.6 million backers.

Kickstarter refused to comment on individual projects and said that concerned backers should consult its "trust and safety" page.

“Kickstarter doesn't evaluate a project's claims, resolve disputes, or offer refunds — backers decide what's worth funding and what's not,” the crowdfunding platform warns on its website.

A Kickstarter project to fund the production of ZPM espresso was delayed by three years before its inventors pulled the plug on the machine and its 1,500 supporters who pledged US$370,000.

Organisers of the Hong Kong ICT Awards 2015 said Nbition fulfilled its requirement for the company to show their product had been launched three months previous to the competition.

Chiu demonstrated Arist for the Post using the accompanying iPhone app to produce two espressos after engineers had made a few tweaks to the prototype using screwdrivers and a black and yellow pencil.