If you've ever tried to order a McFlurry from your local McDonald's only to discover that the fast food outlet's soft-serve machine is conveniently broken, well, you're not alone. Right now, close to 10% of all McDonald's soft-serve makers globally are out of service, according to the "McBroken" real-time machine tracker. An Alameda-based startup named Kytch created a device aiming to get that percentage to zero — an ambition that McDonald's crushed.
Now Kytch is filing suit against the fast-food giant.
The startup filed a legal complaint on Tuesday with the U.S. District Court of the District of Delaware seeking $900 million in damages. The complaint alleges that McDonald's interfered with contracts with Kytch's customers and accuses the restaurant chain of false advertising.
Kytch, founded in 2019 by Melissa Nelson and Jeremy O'Sullivan, built small devices to go inside the chronically broken soft-serve machines, made by McDonald's partner The Taylor Co. The devices let users troubleshoot the machines' well-documented issues using a smartphone. Kytch's customers were McDonald's franchisees, who operate tens of thousands of McDonald’s locations globally.
McDonald's, however, didn’t like this. In its complaint, Kytch alleged that the company sent emails to every franchisee in November 2020 in which McDonald's advised that they stop using Kytch’s devices immediately. The emails, which Kytch claims, were detrimental to the startup’s sales, allegedly said the devices violated the machine’s warranties, could cause “serious human injury” and give Kytch access to "confidential information.” Kytch argues in the complaint that these safety warnings were inaccurate, aiming to discredit the startup and give more business to Taylor.
"Taylor has intentionally created 'equipment reliability issues' for years, and its repair and maintenance business has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for repairs that Taylor itself caused," the complaint reads.
In its first complaint filed May 2021, Kytch claimed that Taylor used to make a similar device to theirs, which got the manufacturer a restraining order. Now, Kytch is going after McDonald's for cutting off its customer base.
"Kytch was the only product on the market that was positioned to fix the soft-serve machines at McDonald’s," read the complaint.
Protocol reached out to McDonald's for comment on the lawsuit and will update if or when the company responds.
Amid Kytch's legal battle with Taylor last year, a McDonald's spokesperson said in a statement to Wired:
"Nothing is more important to us than food quality and safety, which is why all equipment in McDonald’s restaurants is thoroughly vetted before it’s approved for use. After we learned that Kytch’s unapproved device was being tested by some of our franchisees, we held a call to better understand what it was and subsequently communicated a potential safety concern to franchisees. There’s no conspiracy here."
Though the lawsuit doesn’t directly address the right to repair, Kytch's fight against McDonald's raises the question of whether product owners should be given the means and equipment to repair their own devices, or if those fixes should be in the hands of the companies themselves.