Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG), headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, is responsible for the sale of many popular consumer brands of soap, laundry detergent, makeup, toothpaste and many other personal care items. A successful American company for generations, P&G has been navigating rough business waters lately, having just given up the 12th-place spot on the S&P 500 in terms of market capitalization to JPMorgan Chase. However, better financial days may be just around the corner for the company, as is indicated by the buy rating extended to P&G stock by the Bank of America in early October. Recently, the corporation announced the release of it’s newly developed Tide Professional Coldwater System, which includes unique enzymes for stain removal that work in cold water environments, saving much of the energy that would have gone into heating the water.
IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series has examined the innovations released by Procter & Gamble before, and our recent survey of patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office showed a preponderance of technologies related to skin and hair care. A couple of patent applications we share below discuss novel methods of detecting biomarkers for dandruff in an attempt to treat the issue in patients. One hair care innovation involves a method of coloring hair to achieve the same color effect that creates such a striking appearance in peacocks.
P&G’s patent portfolio isn’t bursting at the seams, but in recent months the company has been issued plenty which caught our eyes. A couple of innovations for improved retailing of products are protected by patents recently issued to the company, including a technology designed to support the printing of custom graphics on diapers. More skin care research and development was also reflected in these issued patents and we feature a couple of these filings, including one protecting a method of testing the effectiveness of prebiotic agents against skin-borne bacteria. We also share an invention in the field of robotics below.
Procter & Gamble Patent Applications: Lots of Skin Care and Some Retail Innovations
P&G is a company well-known for its extensive lineup of personal care products, and many of its brands are found on the shelves of retail stores and pharmacies all over the world. The company has achieved varying levels of success since it was established in 1837. Some media commentators have speculated that reduced levels of recent innovation at Procter & Gamble have hurt the company, but a newly announced corporate refocus on core brands could help increase its development of intellectual property. Many recent Procter & Gamble innovations can be found on the company’s official website and involve major company brands such as Crest, Olay and Gillette.
Olay is only one of a long line of P&G skin care product brands; Ivory soaps as well as Old Spice and Secret deodorants are other well-known products under the Procter & Gamble umbrella. A couple of patent applications that we noticed relate to novel methods of diagnosing or treating dandruff in individuals. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140273055, titled Noninvasive Method for Measuring Oxidative Stress and Oxidative Damage from Skin: Oxidative Stress and Oxidative Damage Biomarkers, would protect a method of diagnosing skin health. The method involves the collection of a skin sample and the detection of biomarkers in the sample that indicate a level of oxidative stress and/or damage. The noninvasive method involves the use of a tape strip with adhesive for collecting a sample which is tested for the presence of myeloperoxide, a protein and pro-inflammatory enzymes that can create an array of potentially damaging reactive oxygen species. Determining skin health by observing other biomarkers, specifically antimicrobial peptides, is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140273065, entitled Noninvasive Method for Measuring Antimicrobial Peptides from Skin as an Objective Measurement of Natural Protection from Microbes. The patent application would protect another method of collecting a skin sample, again using a tape stripping technique, for diagnosing whether a skin defense mechanism has been triggered in response to a microbial attack. Both of these technologies are designed for monitoring biomarkers related to dandruff production in a patient’s skin while they’re undergoing treatment, which may include the use of anti-dandruff shampoos.
Dandruff isn’t mentioned as a specific issue to address within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140286922, which is titled Method of Measuring the Metabolic Indicators of Hair Follicles. However, the invention is still directed at a method of determining the health of a person’s skin, specifically involving hair follicles. Hair follicles are very active in a metabolic sense and can produce very visible symptoms of health issues; for example, hair loss can result from intense stress or sudden dietary changes. The patent application would protect a method of measuring the effect of an active agent or a stressor on hair follicles which would include the steps of obtaining a follicle and placing it in a vessel where it can be reacted with an active agent or stressor; this activity would be analyzed by a sensor. The invention is designed to help determine beneficial agents which can be used to treat against damaging effects from stressors, especially reactive oxygen species.
We were greatly intrigued by one more patent application in the field of hair care, especially because of the co-assignee included in the filing. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140290689, filed under the title Hair Treatment Process Providing Dispersed Colors by Light Diffraction, would protect a process for treating hair that would create light diffraction, resulting in a dispersed color effect similar to the striking appearance achieved by peacock feathers. The process involves coating the hair with a material that includes a polymer, pressing that hair with a device that includes a primary nanostructured surface to form a nanostructured surface on the hair which is complementary to the primary surface. This would appear to be a strictly cosmetic innovation, but it’s noteworthy that the joint assignee listed on this patent application is Los Alamos National Security LLC of Los Alamos, NM, a support organization of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The federal government maintains some rights in this invention because of research funding made available through the U.S. Department of Energy.
Returning to P&G’s recent skin care developments, compositions for antimicrobial applications are described by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140274852, which is titled Bar Soap Compositions Containing Zinc Pyrithione and a Metal-Pyridine Oxide Complex. The personal cleaning composition that would be protected by this patent application is comprised of zinc pyrithione (ZPT), a metal-pyridine oxide complex and a surfactant in such a combination that the composition reaches a pH value ranging from 9.9 to 10.7 when dispersed in an aqueous solution. The addition of ZPT, a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent, into bar soaps can often result in soap discoloration, which reduces sales; this formula achieves better color stability and extended shelf life.
Much of P&G’s profits are made from the sales of the company’s various retail brands, so its no wonder that the corporation would be interested in developing solutions to retailing issues. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140284440, simply titled Magnetic Display Unit, would protect a shelf display unit with a top wall and two opposing side walls, a magnetic connector attached to the top wall and a plurality of channels, each with a channel gap. The technology has been conceived to maximize shelf space in retail environments while providing an attractive display that grabs a customer’s attention. The magnetic connectors secure the display unit to a shelf while allowing a customer to remove the piece for purchase if desired. An innovation aimed at improved packaging for retail products, specifically water-soluble detergent pouches, is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140283484, which is titled Method for Printing Water-Soluble Film. The patent application would protect a method of producing a water-soluble detergent pouch with a graphic print using thermoforming and vacuum forming techniques. The invention is intended to improve upon conventional off-line printing techniques used to label packaged material, which can be a time-consuming process.
Issued Patents of Note: More Skin Care and Retail Packaging, Plus Some Robotics
As we noted above, Procter & Gamble has reduced its focus on innovation in recent years, although they did still rank among the top 100 U.S. patent grant recipients last year, as reported by the Intellectual Property Owners Association. In 2013, P&G earned 546 patents through the USPTO, 74th-most that year among all patenting entities. Although it’s patent portfolio may be smaller than other Companies We Follow, Procter & Gamble is diligent in protecting its intellectual property. Recently, the company won a patent infringement case against Clio USA, whose tooth whitening products infringe upon patented technology in Crest Whitestrips, according to an Ohio district court judge. We didn’t see large numbers of patents issued and assigned to P&G over the past few weeks but what we did find focused mainly on the company’s personal care products, a major core business.
Cosmetic and aesthetic improvements to the products that this corporation already manufactures has certainly been a recent focus in research and development, at least according to a couple of patents that we explored. U.S. Patent No. 8776683, entitled Process for Manufacturing Absorbent Products Having Customized Graphics, protects a technology designed to give customers of absorbent products, especially diapers, more options for the graphic print design of the product. The patent protects a method of receiving an order for absorbent products with a custom print design and printing the absorbent material with the custom graphics. This process, which also uses off-line printing techniques, is meant to increase the ease of segregating custom orders from non-customized articles in a high-speed manufacturing environment.
Detergents having perfumes which are distributed more evenly in a load are the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8759275, issued under the title High-Efficiency Perfume Capsules. The patent protects an encapsulate surrounding a perfume core with a wall comprised of melamine formaldehyde and a polymer coating surrounding the wall comprised of a polyvinyl formamide polymer. This improved high-efficiency capsule enhances the deposition profile of a perfume over multiple surfaces, such as different fabrics included in the same load of laundry.
Robotics innovations are something we’ve seen from a number of the high-tech manufacturers that we profile in this IPWatchdog series. Still, we were piqued to find P&G’s own entry into this field with the technology disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8781616, which is titled Robotic Unscrambler and Method. The invention is an improvement over conventional robotic unscramblers used for the transportation of products in commercial manufacturing facilities. The technology reduces downtime incurred when these robotic unscramblers must handle items of different size and shape, which requires reconfiguration of grippers and other components. This patent protects an unscrambler with multiple conveyance apparatuses and an uprighting device that aids the transport of a product from one conveyance apparatus to the next through the use of a picker component.
Skin care was again a focus of the technology we saw reflected in the patents which have been recently issued to Procter & Gamble. Products for combating against the undesirable presence of bacteria on the skin are discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8815538, which is titled Method of Making Cosmetic Compositions Containing a Prebiotic. The patent protects a method of making a topical cosmetic composition by determining the metabolite and replication levels of a microorganism in a first culture when reacted with a prebiotic test agent. This method of identifying prebiotic agents is designed to be more cost-effective, quicker and reliable than conventional methods. We also noticed a technology meant to benefit those suffering from symptoms of the common cold, explored in U.S. Patent No. 8764715, issued under the title Test Method for Assessing Irritation of Skin. The method of assessing skin irritation which is protected by the patent involves intentionally irritating a portion of skin from a test subject using a chemical irritant and a physical irritant to assess for dryness and erythema. This test method is designed to help determine the cause of dryness around the nostrils of cold and allergy sufferers for the development of topical treatments.
Finally, we were greatly intrigued by one last patent we decided to profile that may take many years off of someone’s appearance by improving the quality of their hair. U.S. Patent No. 8784907, which is titled Compositions and Methods for Improving the Appearance of Aging Hair, protects a hair care composition for reducing the appearance of gray hair, comprised of therapeutically effective amounts of parsley serum extract, macrocystis pyrifera serum extract, caffeine, panthenol and niacinamide. Along with reducing the appearance of gray hairs on a patient, this composition would also result in a thicker and fuller head of hair, making a subject look younger and increasing his or her confidence in personal appearance.