The development of robotization across the Atlantic, the franchise model turned upside down ?

Avocats, Conseils en réseaux

In March 2023, the McDonald’s franchise opened its first restaurant in the state of Texas, operated mainly with robots.

No cashier, no “human” order-taking, burgers and fries prepared by robots, orders brought to customers by conveyor belt…

This opening is part of a more global trend towards the development of robotization within franchises, particularly restaurant franchises.

The Chipotle Mexican Grill franchise, for instance, uses robots to prepare meals in its restaurants. The Chick-fil-A franchise, for its part, launched robotized delivery of its products in 2023. And the Golden Corral franchise is currently testing in-restaurant service by robot.

These advances should not, however, mask the still significant shortcomings of these machines in the foodservice sector.

For example, Jim Collins, former CEO of Kitchen United, reckons that it will be another ten years before robotics become widespread in the fast-food sector, given the constraints it currently faces:

  • Need for a large surface area to install several robots.
  • Investment costs.
  • Difficulty in meeting specific customer requirements.

Not to mention the many other questions raised by the robotization of networks, notably their impact on customer relations, the environment, etc.: the model of franchising is also likely to be turned upside down.

We would like to take a look at some of the questions this evolution is likely to raise.

  1. Who will own the know-how?

Since customer reception, order placement, food and beverage preparation, potentially the implementation of advertising campaigns, etc., are all carried out by robots, the question arises as to whether the designer of the robots used by the network could claim to be the owner of at least part of the franchisor’s know-how.

Networks need to anticipate this question

Inter alia, they will need to conclude contracts for the transfer of intellectual property rights, including the transfer of all associated technical documentation. This may represent a cost for the franchisor.

Such an assignment of intellectual property rights will in any case be essential for the franchisor to preserve the secret nature of its know-how and to develop its know-how in the future

  1. More engineers in franchising?

The franchisor shall provide its franchisees with ongoing assistance throughout the franchise contract. Head of network must also develop its know-how in line with changing customer and market expectations, so that the concept remains attractive.

However, since a significant part of the concept depends on robots, the franchisor will probably have to reinforce its team by recruiting engineers.

They could work for R&D, to develop the concept, or to resolve complex technical issues affecting the robots in place within the network, issues which are likely to become major ones in the future.

  1. Greater protection for know-how?

A recurring question for franchisors is how to protect their know-how. While franchisors can claim copyright over their operating manuals, the concept itself cannot be protected.

However, the robotization of franchising opens up a potential new avenue for franchisors: the protection of know-how by patent.

To qualify for such protection, however, the franchisor’s inventions shall inter alia be new and provide a technical solution to a technical problem.

Avocats, Conseils en réseaux

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