The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported last week that McDonald’s is seeking to patent its methods of sandwich assembly. The following day, in a story headlined “McDonald’s puts patent on sandwiches,” British newspaper said that the fast-food giant “wants to own the rights to how a sandwich is made.” That piece subsequently appeared on Digg, boingboing, Slashfood, and Netscape News, sending commenters into an anti-McDo tizzy.

The story has also generated a fair share of confusion among readers, likely because none of the articles have been very specific. McDonald’s isn’t trying to patent the generic act of slapping a filling between two pieces of bread, as the Metro story suggests—at least, not exactly. The chain is seeking a patent for “novel methods of making a sandwich and novel sandwich assembly tools,” according to the patent application; a closer look reveals that the “sandwich assembly tool” can be as complicated as a three-chambered apparatus or as simple as a hamburger wrapper or clamshell container:

Sandwich preparation in accordance with the invention can include placing sandwich garnish and/or condiment directly on a piece of paper, a wrapper that is eventually used to contain the sandwich, the container used to hold the completed sandwich when it is presented to the customer, or preferably a tool adapted for assembling and applying garnishes.

What about those “novel methods”? Here’s one of them:

An order for a sandwich is taken from a customer and a bread component is placed onto a pre-heated, preassembled sandwich filling. The filling is made from two or more foodstuffs. Next the bread component and filling combination are inverted.

(Presumably the top piece of bread is added once this “patented” flip trick is complete.)

As a UK patent official told the Guardian, it’s unlikely that McDonald’s will get its way; the chain “might have a novel device but it could be quite easy for someone to make a sandwich in a similar way without infringing their claims,” the official said.

What I want to know is why McDonald’s would think making a sandwich upside-down and then flipping it over is a time-saving trick, let alone a patentable one—doesn’t that extra step just increase the incidence of employee repetitive-stress injury? If you’re a reader who works in food service, have you encountered any bizarre and unnecessary techniques at any of your workplaces?

See more articles