Saturday, February 28, 2009

Before you Quit or Give Up........ Read This!

12-02-2003 I filed for a Patent pertaining to our liquid nitrogen ice cream machine and Process.

12-02-2005 We filed a "Request for Status of Application". (Yes 2 years later, I hadn't heard a thing)

08-10-2006 We received a six page "Non-Final Rejection" letter from Examiner at United States Patent TradeMark Office. (2 years 8 months later)

12-11-2006 We file a four page "Arguments/Remarks Made in an Amendment" to Patent Examiner. (3 years later)

09-13-2007 I received "Final Rejection" letter from Examiner at United States Patent TradeMark Office. I remember this day well... even with "Final Rejection" I gave thanks for the patent and I visualized it in my hands. I didn't know how it would happen but I knew it would.

At this point we didn't really know what to do. The option came up that maybe, just maybe we could meet with the Examiner to show the difference of our machine and process. It was kind of a long shot but it seemed like our only option..... if it would even be allowed.
After a day or so, I received a phone call from our Patent Attorney saying that the Examiner was going to allow us to meet. (3 years 9 months later)

02-02-2008 I started to disassemble the G4 ice cream machine and stuff it in a carry-on size suit case. Now, what are the odds I'm going to just walk on the airplane with a 50 lb. carry-on full of steel, motor, electrical parts and a smile! Not to mention I was going to send a liquid nitrogen dewar as luggage. What if it gets lost, or damaged, or removed for some weird safety reason? Our trip would be a disaster! And yes my carry-on was tested for bomb residue going through security. (4 years 2 months later)

02-03-2008 We are scheduled to fly out of Seattle to Washington DC with a plane transfer along the way.
We leave Wenatchee about 6:30 am to drive 180 miles over the Cascade mountains to Seattle so we can catch our 12 noon flight to Washington DC. We make it over the pass about an hour before it closes which would have caused us to miss all our flights.
SNOQUALMIE PASS –Crews closed the road in both directions between Cle Elum and North Bend around 10:30 this morning. They prepared the helicopter for take off and it was finally airborne with Avalanche Control Supervisor, on board.

02-04-2008 We assemble the G4 ice cream machine in our hotel room and put the liquid nitrogen dewar together. Then we set out to get liquid nitrogen and ice cream mix so we can show our process to the Patent Examiner. Later this evening we meet with our Patent Attorneys and we discuss our options. After a few hours of throwing out every option we could think of... we still didn't seem to have a way around the prior art we were up against. Fianaly, we called it a night and went to eat dinner. After dinner, Ward, Kelly and myself went back to our room and studied the other two patents in an attempt to find a way around them.. we only had one shot at this and we knew that somehow we had to find a way.
After a few hours of joking around and some very careful reading and rereading and rereading, we felt as though we had found our answers!

Ward reading over the opposing patents.

Kelly reading over the opposing patents. (I was busy taking pictures!)

We met with the Examiner, I still don't know how we found this place, found a parking spot or made it through armed security with a tank full of mysterious liquid and our wild looking machine!
After all said and done, our patent attorney said that in all his years it has never gone this smooth with an examiner. It was a total success and yes we made fresh Oreo ice cream on the examiners desk right in front of him!

02-07-2008 (Thursday) We fly back home to WA state. We arrive in Seattle at midnight, got our luggage, got the car and headed towards home over the Cascade Mountains. I had heard through out the day that the passes were closed but somehow I knew we would make it home... I could see it. We arrived home at 4 am. I don't know how Kelly stayed awake but he did and drove us home the whole way!
I-90 SNOQUALMIE PASS - Eastbound and westbound Interstate 90 across Snoqualmie Pass opened to traffic about 12:15 a.m. Sunday, February 10, after being closed since Thursday due to heavy wet snow on the roadway brought down by avalanche control work.
I don't know how we got through but we did and the pass closed just minutes behind us and remained closed for days!

04-08-2008 We receive "Notice of Allowance" (4 years 4 months)

05-23-2008 I received a phone call from my patent attorney saying "Rob, I have some bad news.... I've only seen this happen one other time. Someone had submitted a letter and what they claim to be "prior art". This could end me getting a Patent, I could be required to start over or I could be allowed to continue with a new "Allowance"... it's was up to the Examiner.
It wasn't easy but for days I remained positive... I could visualize the patent in my hands, I could feel it. I only shared this news with one other person, I didn't want everyone to worry and stress about possibly losing the patent we had waited and worked so hard for.

06-25-2008 We file a "Arguments/Remarks Made in an Amendment" to Patent Examiner.

06-30-2008 Examiner reviews all information and issues a new "Notice of Allowance". (4 years 6 months later)

10-15-2008 Another letter is submitted to stop our Patent from being issued.. with "Prior Art"

10-28-2008 Examiner reviews references and gives us a new "Notice of Allowance.

11-05-2008 We receive Issue Notification

11-25-08 Patent Issued!

12-20-08 Patent Received! (5 years later)
Five years later, after a "non-final rejection letter", a "Final rejection letter", a trip to Washington DC to meet the Examiner, and two more letters to stop us from receiving a Patent.... Our Patent was issued!

Here are a few more photos of our trip to WA DC.

Releasing nitrogen in our hotel room. Boys will be boys!

Rob at the United States Capital Building.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Custom Made Ice Cream Machines for the High Net Worth Individual

2008 Alright, so some time back, Ward and I decided that we were going to design and build the world's most exotic and expensive ice cream machines. The idea wasn't to just throw some crazy price tag on a machine but to create a one-of-a-kind piece of art. Now depending on your taste, we can build you a machine that represents your interests, whether it's Gold, Platinum, Silver, Custom Paint, other Exotic Materials or Skins, Exotic Woods, Diamonds, Jewels or Custom Engraving. We can design a style to fit your luxury apartment in the city, cabin in the mountains or for your beach home get-a-way. The possibilities are endless and what you end up with is a true working piece of art like no other.
Designing and fabricating each custom machine can take well over 300 hours depending on the detail and complexity. Each custom machine is numbered, signed, and personally delivered anywhere in the world. So for the ultimate ice cream connoisseur, who requires only the best or the person who just seems to have everything.... There's NitroCream's Custom Machine.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The N2-3000 Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream machine

2005 Ward and I built the N2-3000. It was a tilt head version that for the most part worked quite nicely. It could be mounted on a portable cart or on a permanent counter. Each machine ran off it's own liquid nitrogen dewar and could make a custom ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt or sorbet in about 60 seconds based on your desires.
Each machine is made by hand. We get the metal, and cut, bend, weld, grind, drill, re-cut, re-weld, re-drill, get a band aid, sand, polish, plate, assemble, and test.

Here are a couple of pictures.

The 2nd picture shows my son Rosten running the machine with his broken arm.

Our new car the Dodge Nitro

2009 Ok, so the other day we went to test drive a Dodge Nitro and what do you know we drove it home!
Yeah, I know.... we have a company called NitroCream and we buy a Dodge Nitro..... ironic isn't it.
Anyway, it's pretty cool, it has a v6 engine, it's 4 wheel drive and has plenty of room to haul five people.

Here's a picture.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A girls first ice cream

2003 I remember working one afternoon when a family came in for some ice cream. As the family ordered we found out that their daughter (probably 6 yrs. old or so) couldn't have any ice cream because she wasn't able to digest sugar or dairy. This young girl had never had ice cream before! I asked what she ate because I had never heard such a thing before and the mom said that they have a special liquid formula that she drinks.
Well, being that we could freeze anything, I asked if they had any formula with them and if so, we could freeze it into an ice cream if they wanted. The young girl was excited! They ran out to their car and came back with a bottle of what looked like baby formula. The girl asked if she could have some sliced almonds added to it and with that we went to work. Within a minute or so and through a cloud of fog we handed the young girl her very first ice cream! That right there was one of my favorite moments...
After the family left we all looked in the bowl in which the girls ice cream was made, like it was from another planet or something. Wonder what it tastes like I said as I scooped a small bite off the side of the frozen mixing bowl... horrible! Just horrible! It was one of those moments when you need a sink and something to wash your mouth out like 10 seconds ago! But for that one girl it was bliss in a cup, and a day I will remember forever..

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The birth of an idea

2003-2004 I guess the best place to start should be to recap the last few years so that I can get you caught up with where I am today.
Back in 2003 my wife and I had a coffeehouse, we opened it on December 31, 1999 and we put everything on the line for it from credit cards, to loans, to even a second mortgage. Our first son "Rosten" was 11 months old at the time. My wife (Kristen) had worked at Starbucks for years prior and she was very good at what she did, I had total faith that we could do this because of her experience and my entrepreneurial desire.

Our store had a bamboo bar, rich colored walls, leather couch and large chairs you could loose track of time in. We had palm trees and large plants that you could hide around if you wanted some privacy. I think we spent most of our time out in the big chairs socializing with customers... making friends. This is when I met my good friend Ward and his wife CleAnn. Little did I know that we would partner together on such a journey and that our lives would never be the same again.

Kristen and I had been in business for a few years and we were searching for something new to bring in some extra sales. We already served espresso (lattes, mochas, cappuccinos, Americanos), as well as chai, fruit smooties, frappes, italian sodas etc. We also offered monster sandwiches like the "Rhino" and the "Great White", they came on large seasoned focaccia bread that were the size of your plate and a half a pound of meat with lettuce and onion and chipotle mayo..... yes they rocked!

Anyway, we were thinking about adding ice cream, it seemed to be a good add-on for coffee shops because it offered something for the kids and it was a later afternoon sale where as coffee was more for the morning. After looking around at ice cream equipment it seemed that our only choices were soft serve machines or a dipping cabinet and everyone around us that sold ice cream already had one or the other. So how could we stand out or be different with the same equipment as everyone else... we hadn't ever heard of gelato or Cold Stone, we didn't know who or what they even were at the time.

During our process of trying to figure out this dilemma, one of our employees had just came back from a family reunion in Montana. She mentioned that they had made ice cream with liquid nitrogen and it was not only fun and cool but tasted really good. Now, I didn't know what liquid nitrogen even was at that moment but the idea really struck me. I though, what if there was a place you could go and have ice cream made fresh right before your eyes using liquid nitrogen! It just sounded awesome to me!

But I didn't know ANYTHING about this! I had no knowledge or education on liquid nitrogen, it's properties, it's safety, I didn't know if I needed a special license to get it, to use it or even where to get it. I didn't know that it was -320 degrees below zero! I also didn't know the ice cream fundamentals, how to make a great mix, or can we buy it. What do they mean by overrun, butterfat content, emulsifiers or stabilizers? At that moment... I had to have been the most ignorant person alive when it came to liquid nitrogen and ice cream! Don't get me wrong, I knew what ice cream was, I ate plenty.... it's just that I was walking on to a whole new ball field here and I didn't know the rules or how to play.

I felt as though the mother ship had just dropped me off on the wrong planet.... but, I was excited and intrigued by the whole idea and THAT is what pushed me forward! So I gave myself a couple day crash course on liquid nitrogen and ice cream.. at least some basics so I didn't kill myself or others. We found out where to purchase nitrogen and made our own ice cream base from scratch, then I started some hands-on experimenting to see what would happen.

It worked! It was exciting and it tasted great! We had a long way to go yet but we were on the right track. Next, I needed a way to mix the nitrogen and ice cream together rather than by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. By hand, the ice cream lacked that extra touch that it needed to take it from good to great, plus doing it by hand was a lot of work and it took way to long! I believe it was Kristen that mentioned using a mixer. Great idea, let's try it! Now, a long story short the mixer idea worked but we broke a LOT of mixers. They just couldn't handle the freezing of the liquid nitrogen. We tore up metal mixing blades, burnt up motors and broke and mangled gears and housings. We went through $200-$300 mixers like crazy and we were spending a lot of money that we didn't have.

So the only logical idea at the time was to fabricate our own parts that were stronger and fit our application better, and what was my background with fabrication and mechanics? You guessed it... zero! Plus, we're talking about something that doesn't exist yet so I don't have anyone to follow or copy... I can't even go buy the parts I need because 1.they don't exist and 2. I'm not sure what I need! It was about this time that Ward was helping me and I asked him if he wanted to partner with us to help build a store and work on finding a way to make our own liquid nitrogen ice cream machines. We had similar ideas and communicated really well together, we could say a few words and we knew exactly what each other was thinking. We talked about how we'll sell the machines all over the world! We'll be rich! We talked about driving our future Lamborghini's and traveling the world! We were on a high!

With an OK from the landlord, we started to expand and open an ice cream shop next door in the vacant building. It would be grand! We opened the wall between the two shops, and built a Key West theme with a glass covered sand bar, and bright colored buildings along one wall. It was sorta like being outside. Up at the bar we had four modified mixers with copper lines running to each of them from a liquid nitrogen dewar. We could pour in the liquid ice cream base, turn the handle to add nitrogen and with dozens of flavors, fruits, and candies, we were able to create a custom made ice cream just for you in about a minute.

It didn't take long and we knew that we were on to something big. Customers loved it! They loved the quality, the customization, the freshness and the fog show! Schools were coming by for field trips and we even had 76 bikers lined up to get ice cream as they were passing through town. Things were going pretty good with our new concept, and Ward and I were figuring out ways to make parts that worked better to meet our needs. Now the time was coming down to where I was faced with applying for a patent. I learned that you only have a year to apply for a patent once your put your concept out in the public or make money off of it. What did I know about patents? Nothing! So I got an attorney and had most of it done for me. I didn't know what to do.. I didn't even know what I would get a patent on if I were to receive one!

I know that as I tell you about all this and what I didn't know, you may be saying to yourself "this guy doesn't know anything"! But I am a pretty smart guy if I say so myself, I'm good at figuring things out, I can see things before they are built or created and I have a pretty good common scense. The main point that I'm trying to make here is that I didn't know anything about this vision or idea that had been given to me, and for what ever the reason was... it was up to us to bring this concept to life. No matter the challenges, no matter the hurdles, somehow it was all possible if I believed that it was.
Looking back now, I would say probably one of the greatest things of all was that we had no idea the costs, the efforts, or the time frame that lay ahead... if so I doubt that we would have ever made it to this point!