As discussed in the design patent section of our food and beverage industry spotlight, patent protection can be a huge advantage for food and beverage businesses. Our earlier example illustrated design patent protection giving a food and beverage company a competitive advantage to distinguish themselves from competitors.
However, another type of patent, called a utility patent, may also be an avenue to consider when building an intellectual property portfolio for your business. Whereas design patents protect the appearance of an article, utility patents protect how that article is used or works. Utility patent protection may be available for useful, novel, and non-obvious inventions.
To give an example, a food and beverage company may patent the appearance of a bottle via a design patent. However, should that same bottle have also been developed with useful, novel, and non-obvious features, the bottle may also be eligible for a utility patent. For example, a unique shape of an inner surface of the bottle to prevent carbonated beverages from foaming over could also make the bottle eligible for a utility patent.
There are many areas in the food and beverage industry where innovations may potentially be eligible for utility patent protection. Such areas may range from food packaging, to food processing methods, to equipment for performing certain food preparation steps. And, much like design patent protection, utility patent protection also has the potential to give a food and beverage business a competitive edge.
For example, a utility patent issued to Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 1970 protecting their method for packaging Pringles in the now well-known Pringle tube package. The tubular packaging developed by Fredric Baur and Harold Kenneth of P&G checked all the boxes for utility patent protection because the tube was useful, novel, and non-obvious.
The packaging was useful for maintaining freshness and preventing breaking of the chips with its reduced package size. The packaging was novel because no one else had used such tubular packaging. Further, the packaging was determined to not be obvious, as no disclosure or suggestion could be found in the prior art to arrive at the claimed packaging method.
By having utility patent protection, P&G was able to protect themselves from competitors and move forward with intact, fresh Pringles using their innovative tube packaging. Further, the innovative tube packaging for Pringles had the added benefit of being easily recognized by consumers, differentiating Pringles from other chips on the shelf.
So if your R&D team has to troubleshoot issues with your food and beverage products, especially packaging challenges, consider whether the solution you create may meet the criteria for a utility patent. Utility patent protection may prove to be helpful in differentiating your products from others on the shelves.