TRENDS IN PU ELASTOMERS
While the patent literature is notably poor at providing insight of fundamental science, it is the clearest way of understanding the future of a technology and market. This is because the patent literature represents a sizable investment by a company or individual on what is believed will be desirable by customers and market competitors in the next generation product. Further, defense of a patent asset requires that the technology on which a patent is based must be protected by patent prior to its commercial introduction.
While a single patent may not be instructive as to the direction of future innovation, a clear trend in industrial patent activity can be unmistakable. Worldwide, over 1650
FIGURE 9.26 Trend of increasing published patents on polyurethane elastomers since 2000. There were 1660 total patents published worldwide over this period.
patents were granted on the subject of PU elastomers from 2000 to 2013. Figure 9.26 shows increasing patent activity from those years reflecting the increasing production and application areas for PU elastomers. Figure 9.27 shows an interesting geographical migration from Japan to China in PU elastomer patenting activity following the increasing production of raw materials and manufactured goods and intensification of competition among global participants. The bar graphs are in no way inclusive, and Figure 9.28 shows a pie chart of the number of patenting companies relative to the share patented by the top five companies from the years 2010 to 2013.
The topics for patent for the years 2000-2013 are shown in Figure 9.29. The greatest patent intensity is on the application of PU elastomers to specific market segments (rather than, for instance, production techniques or new compositions). Some of the categories shown in Figure 9.29 could rationally be combined such as plastic foams/shoes, nonwoven fabrics/textiles, golf balls/sporting goods, and so on, but are left uncollected for the cases when they are not in fact redundant. Another example would be crosslinking agents, which would probably, at least in part, overlap with textiles and fibers due to the use of crosslinking agents to impart wrinkle-free characteristics to cotton fabrics under challenging conditions for PU bonds. The data suggest that while there is some industrial application-patent activity such as for various conveyor rollers and abrasion resistant compositions, the majority of activity protects final user applications such as for clothing (including shoes), and sporting goods including golf balls and roller blade wheels. This analysis suggests that current research can be best applied to satisfying the needs of the consumers/ leisure economy and applications that do not bring a tangible value to the end-user may have less long-term value.
FIGURE 9.27 (a) Patent activity of companies from 2000 to 2010 with those having at least 10 patents, (b) Patent activity of companies from 2010 to 2013 with those having at least five patents. About 700 patents were published between 2010 and 2013.
FIGURE 9.28 Pie chart of all patents filed from 2010 to 2013 relative to the activity of the top five assignees. The top five account for about 25% of all polyurethane elastomer patents filed. (See insert for color representation of the figure.)
FIGURE 9.29 Normalized patent activity based on application of polyurethane elastomers.