A Restraining Order Has Been Issued in the Continuing Drama Around McDonald's Ice Cream Machines

It's no secret that McDonald's has had issues with its ice cream machines, and that they've earned a reputation for being broken more often than not. The official @McDonalds Twitter account has even acknowledged it, once writing "We have a joke about our soft serve machine, but we're worried it won't work."

The digital ice cream machines in more than 13,000 McDonald's restaurants worldwide are manufactured by Taylor Company, and despite their alleged unreliability, they still cost a cool $18,000 each. According to WIRED, part of the reason for that five-figure price tag is because of their complexity: the machines can simultaneously make both soft serve and milkshakes, which is a crucial capability for busy McDonald's restaurants.

But Taylor's complicated machines also have to be completely disassembled for cleaning every two weeks, then painstakingly put back together. And when something goes wrong with them, then they can only be serviced by a Taylor-certified technician. (And things frequently go wrong: according to the McBroken website which tracks malfunctioning McDonald's ice cream machines, more than 11 percent of the machines in the U.S. are currently out of service.)

Close up of vanilla soft serve
Close up of vanilla soft serve

Natalie Chappin / Getty Images

In 2019, a company called Kytch released its own diagnostic device that figured out what was wrong with the Taylor machines and allowed the McStaff to make the necessary repairs without having to call a Taylor technician. Unsurprisingly, neither McDonald's nor Taylor were delighted about that and, according to Kytch's recently filed lawsuit, Taylor allegedly warned McDonald's franchisees that using Kytch's products to service their ice cream machines could cause "serious human injury."

According to VICE, Taylor's Chief Operating Officer admitted that the company tried to get their hands on a Kytch device of their own, "in order to evaluate and assess its potential technology-related impacts upon our Soft Serve Machine." (In their lawsuit, Kytch alleged that representatives from Taylor and McDonald's tried to purchase the Kytch Solution in order to learn Kytch's trade secrets and to reverse-engineer their own similar devices.)

On July 30, a California judge sided with Kytch and issued a temporary restraining order against Taylor — and Taylor was given 24 hours to turn over any and all of the Kytch Solution Devices that they were able to acquire. "Defendants must not use, copy, disclose, or otherwise make available in any way information, including formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process obtained by any of them," the court document said, according to VICE.

"We are optimistic that the truth will prevail," Melissa Nelson, Kytch's co-founder, told the outlet. "It's disgusting that such lengths were taken to steal our trade secrets, destroy our business, and to stand in the way of modernizing kitchens [...] But our case makes clear that it's past time to end shady business practices that create hundreds of millions of dollars of unnecessary repair fees from 'certified' technicians."

So... does this mean we can get a McFlurry, or nah?