The Unending Saga of McDonald’s Broken Ice Cream Machines

A multimillion-dollar lawsuit is the latest twist in the ongoing legal drama.

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McDonald's sign with ice cream cone
Photo: gracethang2 (Shutterstock)

The twists in the ongoing broken McDonald’s ice cream machine saga are more winding than the curves in the soft serve the machines in question are supposed to produce. The New York Times reports on the latest details in the battle between McDonald’s and the startup Kytch, the latter of which is claiming that McDonald’s is in cahoots with ice cream machine manufacturer Taylor Company to libel Kytch and steal its ice cream machine technology. Kytch is suing McDonald’s, seeking $900 million in damages.

What’s going on with the McDonald’s ice cream machines?

McDonald’s broken ice cream machines are so notorious that there’s even a website, McBroken.com, that tracks in real time how many of the chain’s machines are down at any given moment (at the time of publication, 13% of all machines were broken). This site was recently taken over by Jack in the Box to promote a deal on milkshakes—“Don’t get McShammed,” the banner copy now reads.

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As we previously wrote, the startup Kytch invented a device to help solve this problem, something that could be installed in Taylor Company machines to help workers identify and diagnose problems when the soft serve wasn’t serving. In 2020, McDonald’s told franchises that the Kytch device posed a physical safety risk and encouraged those locations to upgrade to Taylor’s latest model, the Shake Sundae Connectivity, which featured a built-in program that looked suspiciously similar to what Kytch was producing. It was then that Kytch sued Taylor, accusing the company of copying its ice cream machine device and sabotaging Kytch.

Back in November 2021, McDonald’s reached out to The Takeout with a statement: “There’s no conspiracy here—McDonald’s has never attempted to copy or steal Kytch’s technology.” This latest lawsuit implies that Kytch believes otherwise.

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The details of the federal ice cream machine lawsuit

Earlier this month, a judge denied the injunction against Taylor, saying that ​​there was no evidence that Taylor’s system “was built with or incorporates any Kytch trade secret,” The New York Times reports. Even before that ruling, the founders of Kytch decided to go straight to the top and sue McDonald’s, saying that the $900 million valuation is based on what Kytch would have been worth if McDonald’s hadn’t stopped using the product and scared off future customers.

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In the lawsuit, Kytch calls out McDonald’s for holding regular meetings with Taylor and franchise owners to figure out how to copy the technology in the Kytch device. The lawsuit also states that when Taylor machines break down at McDonald’s locations, those machines convey confusing messages that leave workers no choice but to call Taylor and pay for one of that company’s technicians to solve the problem, thereby putting more money into Taylor’s pocket.

McDonald’s of course denies it all, saying in a statement, “McDonald’s owes it to our customers, crew and franchisees to maintain our rigorous safety standards and work with fully vetted suppliers in that pursuit.”

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How to get McDonald’s ice cream

Amid all this legal drama, McDonald’s fans are still left without answers to the most pressing question: “When will I get my damn vanilla cone already?!”

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You can, as mentioned before, always check McBroken.com to see where the closest working machine is near you. But there is some legislation in the works in 25 states that might help fix machines faster. The bill getting the most attention is New York’s “Digital Fair Repair Act,” which would require manufacturers to make their diagnostic and repair information available to independent repair technicians and customers.

Can’t get a McFlurry? You’d be able to know why instead of just getting a blank stare back from the teen at the drive-thru. And that transparency, I suppose, would lead to more urgency in fixing these machines.

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New legislation. A multimillion-dollar lawsuit. Extensive coverage in one of the most prestigious food publications out there (I’m referring to The Takeout, of course). We can’t wait for the inevitable HBO docuseries on this years-long ice cream drama.