In the first year of the new millennium, the stock markets plummeted and the economy fiz- zled but if patent activity in the absorbent products category is any indication, the nonwovens industry is doing all right. A review of the absorbent product patents pub- lished by NONWOVENS INDUSTRY dur- ing the last 12 months demonstrates a continuing trend of upcoming innovations in technologies, raw materials, nonwoven fabrics and product design.While slightly fewer of the patents published this year in NONWOVENS INDUSTRY were absor- bent product-related—down 10% to 70%—most of them qualified for this survey. From August 2000 to July 2001, 91 out of 131 (80%) pa- tents published were absorbent products. Nevertheless, this annual (but admittedly unscientific) survey can give some insight into what we can expect to see in the hygiene market in the near future. As always, the patents were selected by NONWOVENS INDUSTRY staff from the weekly publication Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Improved Comfort Takes The Lead
Once again, the bulk of absorbent patents published this year men- tioned specifically the word “absorbent” in their titles showing once again a trend toward improv- ing existing applications for absor- bent end use products. Many of these patents focused specifically on wearer comfort with patents issued for elastic side panels, sheet-like superabsorbent structures, a sweat- absorbing disposable hygienic insert, a mechanical fastening sys- tem and transitional fasteners. Other comfort features noticed repeatedly throughout this survey, showing a trend toward improved fit include Z-folded barrier cuffs, elasti- cized waist flaps and improved fas- tening systems.
By category, the star of the the disposable absorbent products seg- ment, baby diapers were mentioned most frequently in the patent review with 14 or 15% of the patents relat- ing to this market. Various diaper design issues were addressed this year, with patents featuring in- creased leakage protection, lotioned top sheets and elasticized waist bands and leg cuffs.
rnIn second place was the feminine hygiene category with seven patents directly targeting this segment with sanitary pads and tampon-like prod- ucts. As was the case with the diaper segment, many of these patents addressed comfort and longevity issues. Words such as “breathable,” “thin” and “flexible” were repeatedly used to describe the patents.
During the last several years, more attention has been paid to the adult incontinence market and the patent survey saw no exception to this trend. In our survey, six patents were specifically related to the adult diaper market. These patents focus on optimized comfort for adult incontinence sufferers. Of particular note was a patent for a diaper to eliminate bed sores and another containing an aperture to receive fecal matter. If industry expecta- tions are correct, we should expect to see the number of adult inconti- nence-related patents to increase in future years.
The Big Winners
Since this is a review of patents issued in the U.S., it is no surprise that an overwhelming percentage (67%) of the patents were issued to U.S.-based companies. Of these U.S. companies, absorbent product giants, Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, and Kimberly-Clark, Neenah, WI, were the undisputed dominators, receiving 25 and 20 absorbent prod- uct patents respectively during the time covered. Other U.S. companies that received patents include: Avery- Dennison, Neenah, WI, McNeill- PCC, Skillman, NJ, BBA Nonwovens, Simpsonville, SC, Rayonier, Jessup, GA and Drypers, Houston, TX.
Second to the U.S. was Japan with 13 patents issued between July 2000 and August 2001. Of these 13, Uni-Charm, Tokyo, Japan, was by far the leader, receiving nine patents during the period. Thanks to the activity of one personal care giant, Sweden received the third largest number of patents, nine, with all of them being issued to SCA Hygiene, Stockholm, Sweden. Other countries included in the survey were France, Germany, Canada and Brazil.