Innovation is, without any doubt, the lifeblood of entrepreneurial ventures and new business development. Inventors can be defined as revolutionaries who push the economy forward by design or by accident with new ideas that promote competition and create marketplaces.
The story of Melitta Bentz (1873-1950) is a classic example of a 35 year old housewife, turned small businesswoman, who invented a coffee filter revolution in her small German kitchen. Something else that is fascinating about Melitta and her husband Hugo is that they recognized the importance of filing patents as first-inventors-to-file for their original and subsequent inventions. This was a very smart move that protected their innovations from competitors and provided them a safety net for new business development. As the world has become more interconnected globally, inventors worldwide are learning to be vigilant of competition, filing patents early and not forfeiting valuable patent rights as a result of late applications.
The Melitta Bentz Company started with a sound patent foundation for long-term consistent entrepreneurial, commercial and industrial endeavors beneficial to millions of people worldwide. Another way to look at the story of Melitta Bentz and her coffee filter is to remember the old adage that says “...necessity is the mother of invention and the father of entrepreneurship…” Nothing else captures better the story of Melitta Benz and her coffee filter invention. Visualize this: a regular housewife experimenting in her own kitchen with some way to filter coffee so her cup would have a better taste. A fairly straightforward and simple goal. No attempts to change the world. Just a better brew!
Melitta’s Eureka moment did not come in an instant of inspiration but was the result of frustration with dingy unfiltered coffee pots or washing stain-ridden filters made out cloth materials which did not do the filtration job very well. Melitta stumbled upon the use of school blotter paper to filter liquid and remove grounds from her coffee. She cut the blotting paper in the shape of a circle and figured out that it fit the metal cup well for her purposes. Initially, her invention was simple: placing a piece of paper over the perforated bottom of a brass pot to brew a cleaner cup of coffee. The paper filter was disposable which lessened the amount of work she had to do. No more wringing of dirty, stained coffee cloth filters, and a more hygienic system which was appealing from a health awareness standpoint. In time, Melitta perfected the shape of her filter and filed a patent for her two-part coffee filtering system consisting of a filter and filtration paper on June 20, 1908.
Several months later, Melitta Bentz and her husband officially launched the Melitta Bentz Company. The company started on a shoe string budget. However, like most committed inventors, all the Bentz family members were committed to doing their part to achieve success. The sons developed a neighborhood delivery route for the coffee filters. This helped fuel word-of-mouth advertising which led to more coffee paper filter distribution and marketing opportunities. In 1925 the filter packaging with the familiar red and green colors was introduced and the Melitta brand name started to become a household word. The Melitta Bentz Company continued to advance technologically and filed additional patents for the Filtertuten® (filter bags) to fit the new cone-shaped device bag in 1937.
The shape of the original filter changed into the cone-shape with the triangular folded paper filter design and tapering at the bottom we know nowadays. The significance of this change is that the ideal shape for coffee filtering was finally achieved. The paper used for the filter was replaced with a more porous type of paper. The paper filter cone went from a ceramic and porcelain version to a plastic filter cone that was durable and economical. In 1989, Melitta introduced Natural Brown filter paper. The pulp is unbleached which prevents unwanted by-products from damaging the environment.
Fears about toxic bleaches applied in papermaking led The Melitta Bentz Company to shift to a dioxin-free oxygenated paper whitener in 1992. This is when oxygen-bleached paper was born. In 1997 Melitta introduced a new filter paper generation called Flavor Pores. These filters have microfine perforations that filter out unwanted particles and oils while improving taste and aroma. In 2002, Melitta introduced aDouble Crimp technology which adds strength and increases durability of the filters through the addition of a second safety crimp. In 2007, the Bamboo filters # 2 and #4 sizes arrived on the shelves. They are made with 60% Bamboo which is a naturally renewable resource. Also in 2007, Melitta released new patented Flavor Enhancing Micro Perforations. The company operates under the name Melitta Group in Minden, Germany, which has almost 50 companies with over three thousand employees worldwide.
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