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Where's Cosmetic Innovation Headed?


by Bob Stembridge

The cosmetic industry experienced a decline of 6 percent in patent activity from 2010 to 2011, with a total of 6,082 inventions last year, as compared to a volume of 6,438 inventions in 2010, according to Thomson Reuters' 2011 State of Innovation: Twelve Key Technology Areas and Their States of Innovation. The report, which showcases 12 technology areas, one of which is cosmetics, and profiles the innovation activity as measured through patent analysis, also found cosmetic patent filing—including innovations in the subsector categories of makeup, skin, hair, antiperspirants and perfume —experienced a decline in all subsector areas with the exception of antiperspirants, which grew by 22 percent year over year.

The industry’s greatest single source of new patent activity came from the category of makeup (42 percent), with 3,706 global patents in 2011, followed by skin (31 percent) with 2,652 patents, hair (21 percent) with 1,787 patents, antiperspirants (3 percent) with 213 patents and perfume (3 percent) with 212 patents.

French cosmetic giant L’Oreal again holds the top spot for makeup patent activity in 2011, with 322 patents. Secondary recognition goes to Japanese owned KAO Corp. with a volume of 147, followed by the Japanese owned Shiseido Co. with 125 patents. Procter & Gamble (P&G) lead among the North American-based companies in the subsector of makeup with 44 patents.

The cosmetic industry is in a transformational period. The recent recession has taken its toll on cosmetics, as it has in other industries, despite the increase in demand for personal-care products for men, the utilization of nanotechnology in product formulations, R&D investment in emerging markets and items devoted to anti-aging. Innovation, as measured by patent activity, decreased overall from 2010 to 2011, a reflection of more value-conscious consumers seeking solutions with longer-term results. 

Nanotechnology: A Cosmetic Industry Trend

In its eternal quest for the fountain of youth, the cosmetics industry is turning to nanotechnology as a hopeful cosmetic frontier. Patent data analysis on nanotechnology shows R&D activity in beauty and personal care items has grown more than 100 percent in past years, despite the overall decline in cosmetics from 2010 to 2011. Broadly defined as the development of microscopic materials or devices that are 100 nanometers or smaller in size, nanotechnology allows creams, sunscreens, shampoos and other personal care products to penetrate deeper into skin and hair, improving product strength and durability while delivering a smoother, less-greasy application.

As humans yearn to improve their physical appearance, the cosmetics industry will continue its eternal pursuit to find the fountain of youth, inevitably increasing innovation and protecting those inventions with patent rights.

Bob Stembridge is the customer relations manager for Thomson Reuters IP Solutions.

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