The COVID-19 infection has already put the world through a series of unprecedented and unforeseen circumstances, including a shortage of hospitals, medical equipment, medical staff and the most tragic of all; a shortage of personal protective equipment for the majority of the world’s frontline life-saving staff. In addition to this, the mode of transmission of the virus through close contact, droplets and airborne aerosols has made personal protective equipment (PPE) an essential element, not only for healthcare professionals but also the general public. The recent confirmation from the World Health Organization about the airborne transmission of the virus further highlights the importance of PPE, which seems to be the need of the hour to protect the frontline professionals in combating the infection and also prevent the further transmission of the disease within the communities. Established companies in this field of manufacturing, have stepped-up the production of face masks, gloves and gowns to meet the constantly growing demand. However, the balance of supply and demand for this frontline essential item is far from ideal. In such a scenario, the contribution of peripheral companies operating in related technologies becomes vital.
Approaching the topic: search definition and strategy
Patent analytics is an effective process for identifying the companies which possess the technical know-how to fill the lack of supply of PPEs during such times of increased demand. Companies that own industrially applicable scientific inventions, protected through patents in related fields, have been identified through a ‘keyword’ based patent searching method in LexisNexis® PatentSight®. In order to retrieve patents protecting inventions that can be applied in the production of face masks and gowns, the field of search have been defined on the basis of keyword matches in the Title, Abstract or Claims of patent documents, while some completely unrelated technological fields were excluded using IPC classification codes. The generally used search functions like, wild card operators and the Boolean operators that are used for searching, are available in PatentSight and allow for an increased flexibility in the process of searching. This is an added advantage of using the PatentSight software for conducting patent searches and for analytics, as all the filters generally used for the latter can also be applied in patent searching. PatentSight combined these search and analytical capabilities with a database of more than 92 million patent documents from 95+ authorities, which includes English-language versions (original texts, machine translations, OCRed documents) of non-English original patent documents. Coupling these with unique scientifically validated KPIs of PatentSight, allows for the retrieval of all crucial patent owning entities in the related industries.
Analyzing the prospective key-players in the field of face masks, PPE
The companies obtained as Owners of the patents retrieved from the patent search were ranked as per the Patent Asset Index, the patent strength indicator of PatentSight at the portfolio level. The Quality vs. Quantity chart herein represents the relative position of the top 30 companies (as per the Patent Asset Index) against each other in terms of Quality, as indicated by the average Competitive Impact of each company’s portfolio in the defined field and Quantity, as indicated by active portfolio size of each company in this field. The Competitive Impact is the quality indicator of PatentSight at a patent family level.
The Quality vs. Quantity chart for companies owning patents satisfying the search criteria. Analysis based on 7,376 patent families active at 2/7/2020. Owners(bubbles) sorted by Patent Asset Index as on 2/7/2020.
Conventionally known companies like 3M, ResMed, Fisher & Paykel are retrieved as owners with the highest number of patent families and considerable Patent Asset Index. Resmed has been the top producer of ventilators and has increased its production to meet the surging demands. 3M has already been in the news for being the frontline supplier of personal protective equipment face masks all across the globe. Kimberly-Clark is one of the most famous suppliers of N95 face masks.
Exxon Mobil is in the list of top 30 patent owners with the highest average quality, in this current set. Though this may come as a surprise initially, Exxon Mobil has been reported in April 2020 as participating in a joint development project with Global Centre for Medical Innovation (GCMI) of USA to expedite the redesign and manufacture of reusable personal protection equipment, such as face shields and masks. Exxon Mobil is expected to provide its technical expertise in polypropylene technology as well as supply the raw material for the assembly of face mask. As shown in the chart, the Exxon Mobil patents that were retrieved in the chart and contributed to its high average quality on the basis of the PatentSight KPIs, are based on polypropylene technology. Another chemical company Lubrizol, that features in the above chart with fewer patent families compared to 3M, Philips, Fisher & Paykel but higher average quality, has also contributed to the supply of PPE face masks, gloves etc. by supplying raw materials produced by Lubrizol such as high-grade polymers. Decathlon patents expectedly relate to snorkeling face masks whereas Safran patents retrieved in this search are related to face masks for aircraft seats and parachutes. Safran has teamed up with Decathlon and Segula Technologies to produce face masks for health workers fighting Covid-19. Using Decathlon’s snorkeling mask: Easybreath, Safran fitted filters in the masks’ upper and lower ducts based on its know-how in the designing of aeronautical oxygenation breathing equipment.
Analysing the prospective key-players in the field of medical gowns, personal protective equipment
The worldwide spread of the Corona virus has led to an acute shortage of surgical gowns across the globe. The chart shows the top 30 companies as per Patent Asset Index that own patents utilizable in the field of gowns, PPE as defined by combination of keywords (excluding the unrelated fields).
The Quality vs. Quantity chart for companies owning patents satisfying the search criteria. Analysis based on 1540 patent families active at 2/7/2020. Owners(bubbles) sorted by Patent Asset Index as on 2/7/2020.
Traditionally known companies in this field, Johnson & Johnson, 3M, Unicharm, Medtronic, Owens & Minor, Honeywell feature alongside companies like Nike and Mitsui Chemicals. Owens & Minor, Kimberley-Clark, Honeywell and Medline Industries have pumped up their production of gowns to meet the increasing demand of medical gowns.
However, it is companies like Nike and Mitsui Chemicals which have rallied behind to contribute to alleviate the crisis. Mitsui Chemicals have started to produce raw materials for isolation gowns in its subsidiary Sunrex Industry Co Ltd. which has ensured the production of 10 million gowns per month. Nike, the athleisure brand known for its footwear came forward to utilize its collar padding technology for shoes, cord from its apparels and its polyurethane material to make personal protective equipment gowns.
This analysis brings forth the unique method of using patent analytics to narrow down on bordering technologies that can be utilized to address a current crisis situation. The power of innovation as disclosed in patents can be effectively and innovatively utilized for secondary purposes other than their primary focus, as and when required. A powerful scientific analytics method such as the PatentSight Patent Asset Index is all that is required, to identify the hidden strong players in any technological field. We also express our respect and appreciation to the unsung heroes, who took upon themselves to fight this battle against Corona to ensure the safety of all of us.
Excellent data quality is the foundation of reliable analyses. Learn how PatentSight enhances patent data here.
About the author: Dr. Sarbani Chattopadhyay
As a consultant, Sarbani assists clients in using PatentSight in the most optimal way, so that they get insights about patents, about their own portfolio, and portfolios of their competitors, and technologies they are working with, as well as which other technologies are being influenced by their inventions.