Kraft's Pasta Patents Keep the Kids on Mac and Cheese

By Wesley Fenlon

In today's "things you never realized were patent-protected," we present Kraft mac and cheese shapes.

Tech fans know all about patent wars. In 2012, Apple and Samsung duked it out in the courtroom over software and hardware, icons and style that had supposedly been lifted from the iPhone and dropped into the Galaxy S line. Some of these patents are things we take for granted as common sense software evolutions, but Apple wants to protect them. It makes the iPhone more unique. It makes the brand stronger. You get the picture--but did you know the exact same thing happens with mac and cheese?

Kraft patents pasta. More specifically, Kraft patents pasta shapes for its kid-friendly boxes of Mac and cheese, locking its specially engineered dinosaurs and astronauts away from the competition. Step off, Hamburger Helper--you've got to design your own damn pasta animals.

The Design Decoded Blog dug up some of Kraft's patents after the Wall Street Journal profiled Guillermo Haro, who has designed more than 2000 shapes for blue boxes of mac over the past 22 years. 280 of those shapes actually made it into production, which means only about 15 percent of Haro's designs are worthy of becoming macaroni. Then again, that's nearly 300 unique pasta designs, ranging from dracula to a teddy bear to the United States of America. And licensed characters are big sellers; Kraft designs special mac and cheese shapes to appeal to kids, who like dinosaurs but like Spongebob a whole lot more.

Haro has to design characters and his other creations to maintain a recognizable shape even when they're boiled in water. They can't break apart or be too detailed. They have to retain just the right amount of cheese.

Kraft's cartoon character tie-ins give them a leg up on the competition, but they're not the only ones patenting specialty pasta shapes. The Pasta Shoppe produces a range of characters, including college mascots. Annie's is all about the bunny pasta. For 20 years, pasta companies have been waging war right under our noses. We wouldn't want to go up against Kraft, though. Toy Story and Spider-man? Who could beat that?