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Backyard Chefs Fired Up Over Infrared Grills 229

Vicissidude writes "With the expiration of a key patent, major gas-grill manufacturers have scrambled to bring infrared cooking to the masses. The grills are still powered by propane and have traditional gas burners that heat mostly by convection — or hot air. But they also can cook foods with radiant heat generated by one or more infrared burners. Char-Broil says its advanced burners operate at 450 to 900 degrees, hotter than the 450 to 750 degrees of standard gas burners. And unlike charcoal, which can require 20 to 30 minutes to reach its 700-degree cooking temperature, heat from the infrared burners can be adjusted quickly. Bill Best, founder of Thermal Electric of Columbia, S.C., developed the technology in the 1960s, primarily to give automakers a faster way to dry the paint on cars."
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Backyard Chefs Fired Up Over Infrared Grills

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  • Re:YRO? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @12:03AM (#19288687)
    On the contrary, I think this is a perfect example of patents being an incentive to innovation:

    With the expiration of a key patent, major gas-grill manufacturers, including market leader Char-Broil, have scrambled to bring infrared cooking to the masses with models in the $500 to $1,000 range. Previously, such grills cost as much as $5,000.

    So Bill Best invented the grill, patented it and used his temporary monopoly to sell the grill for a high price and (presumably) made lots of money from his invention. Why shouldn't he be allowed to do this? It's not like an infra-red grill is a basic human necessity.
    Now the patent has expired, other companies are free to improve it and sell it for cheaper. Fine. That's why patents have a limited term of 20 years (and it's exactly why copyright should have a much shorter term too).
  • Re:YRO? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jartan ( 219704 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @12:09AM (#19288731)

    As I understood it, the article is about a patent expiration. I think the message here is that the mass marketing of a consumer item was delayed a few years because there was a patent holding it back.

    The article is worded badly. The original patent was created in the 1960s and expired in 2000. Then after it expired they started trying to figure out how to use it in a grill and it still took them 7 years to make it cheap enough for home owners.

    The article doesn't seem to really go into WHY they waited for it to expire though. It could be that they couldn't use it anyways for all we know.
  • Gee (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 27, 2007 @12:11AM (#19288745)
    I'm so glad that a patent on a product intended to dry paint stopped some people from using the same technology to cook meat. Obviously this patent protected the original intended use and enhanced innovation.
  • Bah! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Sunday May 27, 2007 @12:42AM (#19288921) Journal
    If you can't master a simple task like making a charcoal fire, you don't deserve a steak.

  • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @12:49AM (#19288963)
    This is a perfect example of one of the big problems of patents as currently implemented. They're supposed to be there to reward inventors and promote innovation -- but here the patent was doing the exact opposite, it's preventing new grill designs. The headline shouldn't be "patent expiration enables new grills," but rather "patent expiration makes grills cheaper." In theory, the market should make this happen through patent royalties. But obviously this patent holder would be making more in grill royalties if the patent were being licensed at a reasonable rate, and the grill makers and grill users would be better off too. So why do we all too often see patents *not* being licensed? The more I see this occur the more I think a compulsory licensing scheme for patents would be helpful. Remember, patents aren't just supposed to reward inventors -- they're supposed to encourage inventors to share their ideas *so that society can use them*. Patents should be benefiting both the inventor and the rest of us!
  • Re:YRO? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @12:53AM (#19289003) Homepage
    So Bill Best invented the grill, patented it and used his temporary monopoly to sell the grill for a high price and (presumably) made lots of money from his invention. Why shouldn't he be allowed to do this?

    The question is not why he should be "allowed" to do this, but why other people's freedoms should be restricted to facilitate this. Remember, a patent doesn't give the inventor rights, it takes away rights from everyone but the inventor.

    And in this case, it might not have been a bad call. However, the fact still remains that, instead of spurring on the invention of consumer-level infra-red grills, this patent held back development until such a time that the patent was no longer an issue.

  • Re:YRO? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:10AM (#19289085) Homepage Journal
    Then it's pretty ambiguous. For all we know, it might still have taken until 2007 for the cost of the materials & technology to go down far enough to be affordable for this use.

    The article didn't say for sure if the original company was willing to license the technology out at rates low enough to allow affordable grills, nor did it say how much they wanted for the licenses.

    I would suspect that it's very possible that it was the actual construction cost and not the patent cost that was prohibitive, but it's hard for me to be swayed either way on this particular case given how little information there is.
  • by mr_matticus ( 928346 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:22AM (#19289163)
    Well, the patent expired 7 years ago, so there goes that theory.

    Patents do encourage inventors to share their ideas, but they were never meant to go into society's hands concurrent with issuing. Without a limited patent duration, you have two possible realities: either the company gets a perpetual stranglehold on that technology because government has no business limiting it (the Libertarian approach) or you have companies terrified of introducing their discovery because if cost them millions of dollars to figure it out, and cheap knockoffs for a fraction of the price would appear on the market nearly instantaneously (the "information wants to be free" approach).

    Neither one is particularly beneficial for society or companies. This sounds exactly like evidence for why patents work and are an important part of the innovation cycle. It also demonstrates that companies like to hide behind patents keeping their "great products" from the market when in fact they haven't really figured out all the details (i.e. a smoke screen for their vaporware products). If it was the patent holding back innovation, this article would have been written in 2000. There have certainly been infrared products offered for sale for several years now, legally, but beyond the reach of most customers. If you think that's because of the patent and not because of the newness and narrowness of the market, though, you're kidding yourself.

    Adapting a technology to a new market and new packaging costs a lot of money and involves a lot of trial and error. Any patent licensing on the method is just one small part of that.

    Yeah, at first glance it sounds like a great idea for "the rest of us" to get things 15-20 years faster. But the flip side is, "what's in it for the creator/investors?" Investors deserve to get something out of the deal, too. If that's a decade or two of exclusive use to generate profits, which are in turn invested in new products (and corporate accounting blunders), so be it.

    Yes, we could force companies to have profit limits, spending requirements, and compulsory licensing of their creations. We could also eliminate hunger entirely by dictating food production and distribution. It's only a matter of what you want to give up to do that. Part of living in a "free" society is understanding that there's a good and a bad side to that freedom, and you can't just pick and choose the good parts without accepting the less-than-ideal consequences.
  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by localman ( 111171 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:25AM (#19289181) Homepage
    Call me a heretic, but there are a few reasons why I do it from time to time. Mainly it's fun, more fun than using my indoor broiler. But also it still tastes better than inside cooking if you thow some mesquite chips on the grill first, right on top of the lava-rocks that sit on top of the propane. It's convenient and it still tastes pretty good and you wouldn't want to do that indoors. Also, even without the mesquite chips, grilling over a flame seems to work better than grilling under a flame. Something about heat rising, I would guess.

    In the end I will admit that a true smoke is the way to go for ultimate flavor, but for me I can get most of the flavor, most of the fun, and less hassle with a propane grill.

  • Re:unlike charcoal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:35AM (#19289245)
    By the way, if you insist on cooking with wood or charcoal, get a Big Green Egg--you might not want to use anything else afterwards.
  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:07AM (#19289747) Homepage

    One day someone will be able to explain to me the point in going outside to use a grill that cooks your food in practically the same manner as the broiler in your oven.

    One day someone will invent a grill that cooks food in some manner resembling an oven broiler - and your question will have meaning. Until then, grilling cooks food significantly differently that a broiler. Among other things, a broiler does not produce smoke from the food dripping. A broiler also tends to operate in a 'damp' enviroment (because an oven is a closed box), while a grill tends to be dryer.

    I'll take a bag of mesquite charcoal and my New Braunfels smoker over something like this any day. You grill for the flavor. Propane, electric, and now infrared just miss the entire point AFAIC.

    Yes, I grill for flavor - and propane provides it in spades. I own a charcoal grill too, and I choose between them depending on the effect I want and what I'm grilling.
    Someone who grills over nothing but one kind of flavored charcoal is the one missing the point. It's kinda like pouring ketchup over everything, because it all ends up tasting the same.
  • Re:YRO? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @05:50AM (#19290481) Homepage Journal

    if patents are only 20 years (i thought it was meant to be 17 years), and the "invention" was in the 1960s, why is the patent only expiring now?
    They extended it by adding 1) a network card to the device 2) the words "with a computer" to the document.
  • by vidarh ( 309115 ) <> on Sunday May 27, 2007 @05:59AM (#19290527) Homepage Journal
    Just the way it should be. Well perhaps not burned, but brown. The ability to get me a steak that is juicy enough and red enough that my plate looks like I've just slaughtered an animal on it by the time I'm done is the measure of someone who knows how to do a good steak. I want it warm all the way through, but still pink/red all the way through or the flavor will have been completely ruined.

    It's hard enough to find a steak house capable of delivering a truly rare steak that isn't lukewarm, and without warmer grills there's no way I'll bother eating a grilled steak.

  • Re:YRO? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LordVader717 ( 888547 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @10:14AM (#19291747)
    That's the sad fact. Even the more justifiable "genuine" patents are nothing more than a very simple implementation of existing technology, and the only reason it hasn't been already used is because there hasn't been any need so far.
  • Re:YRO? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:32PM (#19293071)

    And in this case, it might not have been a bad call. However, the fact still remains that, instead of spurring on the invention of consumer-level infra-red grills, this patent held back development until such a time that the patent was no longer an issue.

    The inventor spent money and time coming up with this. If he made the effort to invent this, but afterwards everyone simply took his idea and didn't pay him anything, what incentive was there for him to put in the effort in the first place?

    Patents are there as an inceventive to the original inventors to allow them to recoup their initial investments before everyone starts copying them. If patents didn't exist then anyone could copy/take their work without giving anything in return. Your only incentive without patents would be simply that you're making the world a "better" place.

    For some people this incentive is enough, but if you've paid money to create something, and you need to feed your family and pay employees, then it probably isn't.

    It's their "blood, sweat, and tears" that went into making it, why shouldn't they be rewarded for their creation?

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!