This fun story on how Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez invented the frozen margarita machine demonstrates that patent protection need not be the most important spur to profitable invention. Here's an excerpt:
Mr. Martinez had grown up around his father's eatery, El Charo. Tequila was tough to come by then, he said, and the margarita was an exotic drink that most people only consumed on vacations in Mexico.
But the elder Mr. Martinez occasionally would make the frozen drink in a blender for his patrons. When his son opened his own restaurant, he knew that frozen margaritas would help his establishment stand out.
The harried bartenders at Mariano's couldn't squeeze enough limes or blend the drinks fast enough to keep up with demand, though. Customers complained — the signature drink was inconsistent, and it wasn't even cold.
"I saw my dream evaporating," Mr. Martinez said. "This was my one shot at being somebody."
A pit stop at a 7-Eleven proved inspiring. Mr. Martinez spotted a Slurpee machine and knew he'd found the answer. He acquired a soft-serve ice cream machine and started mixing.
"The challenge was to make each drink taste like a blender margarita," he said. "We kept experimenting — and tasting."
Once Mr. Martinez hit upon the right recipe — sugar was the secret ingredient, he said — he moved the machine to the bar.
"It became an instant success," he said. "We didn't have to sell it."
Mr. Martinez never got a patent for his margarita machine, so copycats quickly surfaced. Soon, other bars and restaurants were pouring frozen margaritas, and a few claimed to have acquired "Mariano's secret recipe."
"I never dreamed that I invented anything," Mr. Martinez said. "To me, it was just a way of producing consistent, quality, cold margaritas."
Martinez's original machine was just added to the Smithsonian's collection of American inventions.