an overview shows P&G in the lead; trends
are dryness and flexibility
Absorb This: this year’s absorbent patent overview revealed the standard competition between absorbent product giants Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, and Kimberly-Clark, Dallas, TX, and continued to highlight trends in the market. Our undeniably unscientific review includes the patents published during the last year in Nonwovens Industry, which are selected from the weekly publication, Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and includes only U.S patents. While this does not include a list of all the patents issued during the last year, its varied scope does bring to light several interesting trends. At the very least, this survey is a reminder that innovation continues to be on everyone’s mind in the nonwovens industry—and the race is on for more and more sophistication in absorbent products.
The great majority, 75%—or 60 out of 80—of the nonwovens-related patents published in the last year—were for absorbent product or hygiene applications. We looked at a number of categories including feminine hygiene/sanitary protection, training pants, disposable diapers, reusable undergarments, absorbent articles (which included absorbent undergarments, absorbent articles with components and those with “composites”), adult incontinence products and tapes or adhesives.
The “absorbent product with...” category made up a whopping 58% of the absorbent patents and 44% of all patent types issued. Bells and whistles—emphasizing dryness and flexibility—included notable items such as leakage barriers, flexure resistance elasticized cuffs, a deformation resisting apparatus and two different superabsorbents. In the absorbent product category, an interesting development this year was the preponderance of patents for a composite absorbent structure or product, reflecting the continuing evolution of the hygiene industry toward more complex structures incorporating various nonwoven technologies and a range of different raw materials.
Outside the general absorbent product category, feminine hygiene products topped the list with18% of all absorbent patents issued, an increase from last year’s figure of 14%. The patents were divided between tampons and sanitary napkins, with the latter continuing to hold the majority of patents.
Disposable diaper patents followed, with 13% of this year’s patents, while training pants made up 5% of the patents covered. Trailing with only one patent each were an incontinence diaper system, a fastening tape system and a reusable undergarment.
And The Winner Is...
The two top contenders for absorbent patent supremacy are no different this year than in the past. Not surprisingly, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark were at the top of the heap, with the former in the lead. Over the past several years Procter & Gamble has held its lead and this year was no exception, with the company garnering 16% of all patents, while Kimberly-Clark followed with 10%. Last year the margin was slightly greater with P&G having 30% of the patents while K-C held 22%. Coming in third was Japan-based manufacturer Uni-Charm, Ehime, with 8% of all patents issued. Interestingly, there were nine patents by individual inventors, who decided to take absorbent matters into their own hands.
Several of P&G’s patents were for an absorbent article with some type of elastic and extensible method. The majority of Kimberly-Clark patents covered the “absorbent with...” category, while other areas of interest were feminine hygiene and disposable diapers. Uni-Charm’s patents included a disposable diaper, a “pull-on” pant and feminine hygiene products with added features such as wings and individually wrapped packaging.
Among the other companies receiving patents in this year’s survey were absorbent product manufacturers McNeil PPC, New Brunswick, NJ; FiberTech, Landisville, NJ; Tailored Technologies, Earlysville, VA; Mölnlycke, Göteborg, Sweden; Canada-based Johnson & Johnson and Peaudouce, Linselles, France.
Geographically, companies outside the U.S. held 27% of all patents issued. Japan led the way with 15% (mostly from Uni-Charm) and Sweden closely followed with a strong showing from Mölnlycke at 12% of the patents surveyed. One patent each from France and Canada rounded out the international representation.