Trends in PU Adhesives
While the patent literature is notably poor at providing insight into 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.
Adhesives in general, and PU adhesives in particular, are highly formulated and can bring a high degree of value to specific customers with one formulation, while a small variation will meet the needs of another customer. This circumstance and the very keen level of competition among adhesive providers lead to a very active patent landscape. Our previous category analyses by patent have focused on the activities of major feedstock providers. Major chemical producers are actively protecting their adhesive intellectual assets via patents, especially in defense of their systems house businesses. Figure 10.12 quantifies patent activity from the years 2000 through 2014, of major international integrated manufacturers of PU building blocks, as well as some of the major manufacturers of formulated adhesive systems. While the number of patents among this group is high, it useful to consider that over the time frame characterized by Figure 10.12 over 1900 patents dealt with PU adhesives as either compositions of matter, methods of manufacture, or applications. Of the over 1900 patents, about half were solely concerned with adhesive composition of matter, about 100 were associated with the process of making or applying the adhesive, and the remainder were related to the use of the adhesive.
TABLE 10.6 Composition and properties of a PUD adhesive
FIGURE 10.12 Patent activities from years 2000 to 2014 of major international polyurethane building block manufacturers and major manufacturers of formulated adhesives. Comparison is made to all patents on the same subject filed in the Chinese language.
FIGURE 10.13 Global patent activity for polyurethane adhesives for companies having more than 5 patents. The top five patenting companies (by number of publications are indicated). The graph shows the large number of formulators and manufacturers active in the competitive marketplace. (See insert for color representation of the figure.)
For additional perspective, a broader view of patent activity is provided in Figure 10.13 illustrating the distribution of patent activity of all companies with more than five patent publications over the 2000-2014 time frame. Figure 10.13 shows that the top five patenting companies are Japanese concerns. While representative of activity, this figure does not filter out kokai patent publications that are unexamined applications. A kokai is often promulgated by a company for the purpose of destroying intellectual novelty rather than a sincere attempt to protect an economic asset. In any case, it is also notable that nonchemical companies appear to participate so heavily in the landscape. This can be misleading; many venerable and very sizeable Japanese concerns do not change their historical names to reflect the highly diversified portfolio of products they provide and, just as importantly in the adhesives field, utilize in their business.
As mentioned earlier, about half of PU adhesive patent activity is concentrated on new formulations and compositions for achieving new performance criteria. A partial review of composition of matter patents shows that the majority of new formulations are in fact novel arrangements of conventional materials (Fig. 10.14). No doubt the resulting performance is the basis for asset protection. A similarly abridged analysis shows a varied list of well-known PU adhesive applications (Fig. 10.15). Any trend analysis would probably focus on the relatively large number of application patents
FIGURE 10.14 Adhesive patent activity subject based on protecting specific polyurethane compositions of matter. Result indicates that innovation is based on new formulations of well-established materials. Years 2000-2014.
FIGURE 10.15 Analysis of PU adhesive applications patent activity for the years 2000 through 2014. Applications do not suggest any discontinuity with well-established applications.
FIGURE 10.16 Distribution of patents based on their delivery format and general application category. Data reveal the global movement toward low VOC formulations.
focused on adhering articles of clothing. In fact, a general conclusion of the future trends might point to dissemination of conventional materials into conventional applications to achieve higher performance.
Patent activity since 2000 has been evenly distributed between two-part and one-part formats suggesting that innovation is being driven equally between performance and convenience (Fig 10.16). Further, patent activity across adhesive technology platforms suggests that while waterborne and hotmelt platforms are the most active fields of innovation, there is substantial work across the spectrum and no particular platform is out of favor.
Last, it is useful to consider that while PU represent about 6% of all plastic manufactured, it represents slightly less than 3% of all adhesives patents during the time frame 2000-2014, suggesting that lower cost or specific applications, such as electronics and structural adhesives, may represent areas of more intense current activity. The highest growth in patent activity is in the fields of reactive PU hotmelts and in waterborne PU adhesives.