Procter & Gamble: An Innovator Who Needs Patents

In the world of consumer goods, the Procter & Gamble Company of Cincinnati, OH, is a major force and has been since its founding in 1837. A recent growth in sales of the corporation’s home care products, including Tide, Swiffer and Duracell, is a large contributor to the company’s five percent growth in profits for the most recent fiscal quarter. P&G is making larger investments in its corporate infrastructure near its home base, recently announcing the construction of a major distribution center in Ohio’s Dayton region.

Patent trolls have been an area of major debate in legal circles, and an opinion piece published on U.S. political news website The Hill and written by P&G’s Vice President and General Counsel, Steve Miller, asserts the rights of companies like P&G to protect their innovations without being labeled “trolls.” Any new legislation aimed at reducing trolls must be carefully crafted to address system abuse without negatively impacting innovators, Miller writes.

In asking the question about whether the term “patent troll” has jumped the shark, which is pop-culture reference to one particular scene in the television series “Happy Days.”  In the premiere episode for season 5, which aired on September 20, 1977, Arthur Fonzarelli (aka “The Fonz” or “Fonzie”) was challenged to jump a shark.  The water-skiing Fonz successfully jumped the shark and simultaneously spawned a new pop-culture phrase referring to the moment that a television show had run out of ideas. It has since been expanded to situations where something, in this case a term or ideological movement, has gone too far.

Miller went on to say:

To label a patent holder as a “troll” simply because it legitimately enforces its patents against competitors, copyists, counterfeiters, and knock-offs who steal or copy the inventions of others, is to turn the definition of “troll” on its head.

He is indeed correct. Innovators of all sorts must be able to prevent copyists, counterfeiters, knock-offs and competitors from simply copying inventions. The innovator puts in a great deal of time, money and energy into inventing, and if the copyists, or infringer in patent parlance, is able to ignore rights lawfully granted then they have a competitive advantage over the innovator who created and invested in that creation. Thus, the vilification of patent owners who enforce patents is not only absurd, but it is un-American.

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Until recently America has always celebrated the innovator and vilified they infringer. Today things are turned on its head with real innovators being swept up alongside those bad actors who make a mockery out of the system by engaging in litigation abuse the exploits judicial inefficiencies to essentially shakedown individuals and companies that are simply not infringing. There are bad actors for sure, but innovators cannot and should not be tarred with the same brush. Innovators power a better way of life, with more conveniences, greater functionalities and life saving technologies.

When the Miller piece in The Hill came to our attention we immediately asked ourselves why we hadn’t been periodically investigating the innovations, patents and patent applications of P&G, which is a true American success story built upon innovations in the consumer products sector. Thus, given the breadth of Procter & Gamble’s consumer product development, they are a logical choice for IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series.

In our review we’ve found many interesting innovations to share with our readers. Many of the patent applications and issued patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office which we’ve explored today relate to novel personal care products, both for hygiene and cosmetics. We begin this inaugural, periodic look at P&G with an extended look at one patent application that seeks to make it easier to comply with strict guidelines in the field of disinfecting solutions for public health concerns. Procter & Gamble has developed a cleaning solution designed to meet tough standards in the field of sanitation developed by the European Union. Products for incontinence and tooth whitening, along with some aesthetic improvements to sanitary paper products, are at the core of a few other patent applications that we noticed.

Interestingly enough, particularly in light of the above article from The Hill that specifically mentions the need for innovators to vigorously protect against counterfeits, we found a patent recently issued to P&G that protects a chemical test kit meant to determine the authenticity of consumer products. It would allow a manufacturer to determine that a counterfeit is being sold under a brand’s name. Other issued patents include a couple protecting methods of improving taste and odor in an array of home and personal care products from toothpastes to heated air wicks.

 

Cleaning and Disinfecting Liquid Hand Dishwashing Detergent Compositions
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140121147

The ability to disinfect hard surfaces in homes, restaurants, hospitals and more is a development that has greatly benefitted our world. Disinfectants that can quickly destroy bacteria such as E. coli or staphylococcus strains greatly reduce the spread of diseases caused by these microorganisms. Although many chemicals will kill bacteria, there is a natural constraint on the type of chemicals that can be used safely on surfaces that experience a lot of human interaction.

However, the pace of our world is faster than its ever been, and people often travel from one side of the globe to another during the course of a single day. In airports and other buildings, a person may touch a surface contaminated with some bacteria and pass it on in a matter of minutes to others traveling thousands of miles around the world. For this reason, it would be advantageous to have a disinfecting substance which was both non-toxic to humans and could rid a surface of bacteria quickly.

The Procter & Gamble Company filed this patent application with the USPTO in October 2013 to protect a liquid cleaning substance which meets incredibly rigorous disinfection standards regulated by the European Union. At an 80 percent concentration, this substance can destroy 99.999 percent of harmful bacteria within five minutes at room temperature. These results can be achieved even when treating surfaces which haven’t been pre-cleaned.

This solution meets the need for a liquid solvent which can be used in various cleaning and disinfecting applications. It’s composed of an organic solvent and an antibacterial active or sequestering agent. The liquid disinfecting and cleaning solution can be applied to dishes, cutting surfaces and skin alike and doesn’t require rinsing after application.

Claim 1 of this Procter & Gamble patent application would give the company the right to protect:

“A liquid cleaning and disinfecting hand dishwashing detergent composition comprising: a. at least one surfactant selected from the group consisting of anionic, nonionic, cationic, zwitterionic, amphoteric surfactants, and mixtures thereof; b. at least one organic solvent and/or at least one hydrotrope, and c. a single antibacterial active and/or at least one sequestering agent, wherein the cleaning and disinfecting hand dishwashing detergent composition eliminates 99.999% of Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus and Enterococcus hirae in no more than 5 minutes at an 80% product concentration and 20 degrees Celsius according to the EN1276 suspension test.”

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Other Patent Applications 

Cleaning agents and personal hygiene products are major areas of focus for Procter & Gamble, and this is definitely reflected in a number of patent applications that we wanted to profile for our readers today. With the World Health Assembly convening in Geneva, we felt that it was important to take some time to discuss P&G innovations that may aid in the health and hygiene of consumers. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140100416, which is titled Pessary Device, protects a vaginal insert that helps protect against urinary incontinence, a problem experienced throughout a woman’s life and by about half of older women. An improved disposable cleaning wipe for multiple uses is described in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140109329, entitled Premoistened Multilayered Cleaning Wipe Having Colored Regions. The cleaning wipe is designed to handle cleaning jobs on various surfaces, such as upholstery textiles or countertops. The different regions of the wipe are color coded so a user can quickly determine which part of the wipe is designed for a particular surface type.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140107603, titled “Three-Dimensional Printed Article.”

We were intrigued by a few other improvements to consumer products featured in another pair of patent applications filed by Procter & Gamble. This company develops many dental hygienic products for its Crest brand, and we’ve found another one in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140079651, filed under the title Tooth Whitening Product. It describes a tooth whitening layer composed of polymers for tooth whitening, which coats a backing layer. This product is designed to be easier to handle and improve aesthetically on previous tooth whitening products. We also noticed a cosmetic upgrade to P&G’s various absorbent products, like diapers or feminine hygiene products, detailed in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140107603, entitled Three-Dimensional Printed Article. This process of forming an absorbent fabric article allows images to be printed on the fabric material so that that colors don’t appear muted on one side of the product.

 

Issued Patents of Note

Procter & Gamble manufactures a surprising array of consumer products through dozens of hygiene, cleaning and personal care product brands. Some of these brands include Gillette, Olay, Tide, Charmin, Duracell and Febreze. These various lines of consumer goods are built on the strength of patents issued to protect various liquid and paper cleaning products sold by P&G brands. Our first look at this corporation’s patent-protected inventions show us a wide array of unique improvements to consumer goods and even some new systems for preventing the sale of counterfeit products in stores.

A few of the patented inventions we took a closer look at today involve various methods for improving the taste and odor of products developed by P&G brands. U.S. Patent No. 8721962, which is titled Methods, Devices, Compositions and Systems for Improved Scent Delivery, reduces the phenomenon of habituation, which can cause a human to think that a scenting device isn’t working when actually the person’s sense of smell has become accustomed to the scent. This heated wick device provides more effective scent release of two perfumes, so that users detect an alternating scent.

From U.S. Patent No. 8721962, titled “Methods, Devices, Compositions and Systems for Improved Scent Delivery.”

U.S. Patent No. 8697036, entitled Process for Surfactant Taste and/or Odor Improvement, protects a novel method of liquid/liquid extraction for removal of alkyl phosphate and similar materials from liquid compounds. This process is capable of improving the overall taste or odor of liquid compositions, like toothpastes and perfumes.

The development of better products for personal hygienic care is the focus of another couple of patents that we felt were worth some examination today. The manufacture of an applicator device for topical skin treatments is protected by U.S. Patent No. 8685309, issued under the title Method for Making a Personal Care Product. This device enables the application of a personal care composition to a user’s skin in a way that addresses the shortcomings of pump and aerosol dispensers. The personal care composition delivered by the product would treat skin ailments causing irritation, like diaper rash. An improved sanitary product for cleaning babies is also protected by U.S. Patent No. 8704036, titled Sanitary Napkin for Clean Body Benefit. The sanitary napkin described is more effective at cleaning the body of heavy soil. Although the invention is described as a sanitary napkin, the patent description suggests that it could also be used as an absorbent layer for diapers and adult incontinence products.

From U.S. Patent No. 8704036, titled “Sanitary Napkin for Clean Body Benefit.”

Finally, we thought that we would share one recently issued patent that protects a new method for determining the authenticity of consumer products developed by Procter & Gamble companies. U.S. Patent No. 8703068, which is titled Counterfeit Detection Kit, protects a chemical test kit which can determine the composition of active components within personal care products. This test kit provides a cost-effective manner of testing the authenticity of a product, allowing a manufacturer to alert local law enforcement if they can determine that counterfeit products are being sold. Products which can be analyzed for authenticity in this way include dental care, fabric care, razor blades, beverages, batteries, cosmetics and more.

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Join the Discussion

9 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    Anon
    May 22, 2014 12:59 pm

    Thanks Michael Lin,

    I find it helpful (but not perfect) to reply with a post number included.

  • [Avatar for Michael Lin]
    Michael Lin
    May 22, 2014 12:08 pm

    Sorry , I apparently got the “old Anon” and the “new Anon” mixed up in the string above. I was addressing the Anon who posted #1, above and apparently replied via #6.

    Anyways, I still don’t see how the label of troll-like activity applies at the filing stage. In my mind (recognizing as seen in the press recently that there is no standard definition of “patent troll”) patent troll activity only applies at the enforcement stage. If an applicant wants to spend (waste?) their own time/resources/money filing applications which have a low chance of being granted then that is their own choice. They are paying for them. However causing confusion or concern in the competition also does not (in my mind) equate to patent troll like activity. So again, unless someone is frivolously enforcing patents pretty much with the intention to settle for a fee calculates to be less than the litigation cost, I don’t see it as the actions of a patent troll. Maybe Gene can take a poll for this…I’d like to see if I’m in the mainstream or off-base.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    Anon
    May 22, 2014 10:06 am

    Michael Lin,

    Thanks but I only see your response being a non-sequitur, as “Trolls” were not a part of either my comment nor the comment I was responding to. I was responding to a very specific point that Anon @ 1 stated.

    Maybe your issue is with that person. Maybe you thought that I was attacking P&G (I was not).

  • [Avatar for New Anon]
    New Anon
    May 22, 2014 07:38 am

    There, how’s that?

    Mr. Lin, I cannot comment with inside knowledge, as you can, but from what I’ve been told, my friends seem to regard the P&G parameter approach as a deliberate tactic to put doubts in the minds of customers. For sure there is always a kernel of real invention there, but this is bloated by spurious parameters, and even spurious parameters within spurious parameters, rendering scope almost impossible to ascertain. There is generally no way that these patents will be granted in their original form (although some have been, because the patent offices didn’t realize what they were looking at) – but it creates doubts in customers’ minds, and they do not wish to incur the wrath of a company of that size, handing an advantage to P&G. European contacts tell me that P&G/Unilever/Henkel have a hearing room virtually perpetually reserved at the EPO. If so, this is a major waste of time and resources, and I would question the legitimacy of the tactic. It seems to me to take on troll-like aspects.

  • [Avatar for Michael Lin]
    Michael Lin
    May 22, 2014 03:26 am

    Old Anon -IMHO, your comparison is a non-sequitur. Filing a frivolous parameter patent application or even a knowingly-non-novel-patent application is not troll-like activity.

    A patent troll is someone who shakes down (litigates or threatens to litigate) a producer of a product for a settlement where the claims arguably don’t even cover the product. Thus, all “troll-like” activity takes place after the patent grants. Take a look at the legal dockets to see how many patent infringement cases P&G has filed in the past 10 years. I think you would be surprised how few cases there are.

    I suspect that this is a case of misunderstanding or perhaps sour grapes. I was a patent attorney in P&G for 13+ years. I filed many parameter-related patents, because in many cases, that was the only way to try to protect the full scope of the invention when you’ve invented a whole new technology. As part of an IP strategy, P&G would also of course file traditional patents for the physical, formula, process, etc. (i.e., non-parameter) aspects as well, knowing that parameter patents are notoriously-difficult to get granted around the world. But if they are granted, they can be very powerful.

    Yes, sometimes the parameters were obscure or made-up. Just because your friends didn’t understand them does not make them useless. In my days there, R&D and the Patent group vigorously tested the prior art and the new inventions for the parameters claimed, in order to verify that 1) they were correct and accurate AND 2) that the closest prior art did not fall within that parameter. Remember, in the US, filing a patent requires the attorney to sign an oath testifying that to the best of our knowledge, the claimed invention is novel and inventive. No P&G patent attorney that I worked with was going to knowingly put their license at risk by falsely swearing something to the USPTO.

    No company is perfect, but in my 13+ years there, I know of no cases where P&G litigated or threatened litigation if the product was not arguably covered by the patent, AND we thought the patent was valid. This makes the actions taken legitimate patent enforcement activity, not troll-like activity. There is a difference.

  • [Avatar for Benny]
    Benny
    May 22, 2014 02:11 am

    Old Anon,
    ” bordering on the unethical…” in the case of one of our leading competitors (not a US company), I would go as far as to say that it is also common practice.
    I don’t think we will have much difficulty discerning the new Anon from the old. Like MaxDreis’ command of the English language, the style of old Anon is fairly unique.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    Anon
    May 21, 2014 11:15 am

    Note that Anon at 1 is a new Anon.

    I would posit that any known attempt to patent something known to be covered by prior art with the addition of purposeful obscurity is more than just bordering on the unethical.

  • [Avatar for Benny]
    Benny
    May 21, 2014 09:59 am

    I have sometimes wondered how a company like P&G with a large patent portfolio can actually keep track of infringers. It’s no small feat even for a company with a small portfolio, since you need to combine the knowledge of your valid patents with the knowledge of your competitors’ products in the market.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    Anon
    May 21, 2014 07:47 am

    Good article, but friends in industries related to some of P&G’s fields of activity tell me they are notorious for patents that define inventions by means of obscure parameters, and sometimes even non-existent parameters, which they invent for the purpose. Some would see this as smart patenting, some others see it as bordering on the unethical, as they often represent attempts to cover the prior art. Sure one can take them to court, but how many people are as big as P&G? P&G criticizing trolls is the pot calling the kettle black.