'Tis the season to stay healthy

​Top five hygiene and personal care innovations for the festive season

In the midst of a pandemic, gifts for the festive season could look a bit different this year. Along with the usual gadgets and sweet treats, some innovative products for keeping your family safe and your home COVID-free could make popular stocking fillers.

From 30-second soap to fabric imbued with antipathogenic agents, here are five products that could make their way onto your wish list.

Antimicrobial lighting

It is safe to say that the use of cleaning products, such as anti-bacterial wipes, has skyrocketed during 2020. Bleach cleaning surfaces, deliveries and even groceries themselves has become the norm, with people doing everything they can to keep themselves and their family safe. However, this could come at a cost to the environment.

A more effective and less environmentally-damaging cleaning method comes in the form of antimicrobial lighting. Suitable for continuous use around people, pets and plants, an innovative LED technology, developed by Vyv Tech, is engineered to produce light in the 400-420 nm range, which is known to kill bacteria, fungi, yeast, mould and mildew.

Unlike UV light that works by attacking cell DNA, this antimicrobial lighting works by activating porphyrin molecules that are found exclusively within microbial cells. When activated, the porphyrins produce excessive Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), which become toxic to the cell when they build up, ultimately causing cell death.

Due to this targeted cell destruction method, the lighting can safely be used around people and pets, making it ideal for use in the home. It can also be installed almost anywhere, including above kitchen counters, in ventilation units or simply over-head.

Vyv Tech has strengthened its intellectual property (IP) portfolio by patenting this technology in a number of countries worldwide.

30-second soap

Forgetting to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ while washing your hands doesn’t have to be a problem anymore thanks to Lush’s 30-second soap. A novel stocking filler, these individually wrapped soaps are designed to completely dissolve after 30 seconds of vigorous use – the length of time recommended by the World Health Organisation to wash your hands in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The aim is to get people to experience what 30 seconds of handwashing feels like in practice, helping to change behaviour and promote health and safety.

Anti-pathogen fabric

Wearing face masks has become part of our daily lives, helping people to stay safe and protect others from COVID-19. However, unless washed after every use, they could harbour the very virus they are supposed to protect us from.

Virustatic Limited has created a mask made from fabric with antipathogenic properties, which is proven to provide up to 99 percent virus protection. Originally, the Viruferrin™ coated material was developed for use during flu pandemics, but it also captures SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The protein used in the hi-tech coating is lactoferrin, which binds to the surface of a virus to stop it from replicating.

Tests have also shown that less than one percent of viruses are redeposited onto the wearer’s fingers or any other surface, making the mask safe to touch during and after wearing, unlike standard masks.

This innovative technology has been patented in the US, with Virustatic Limited also seeking to protect its brand by registering the Viruferrin trade mark.

Antimicrobial door handles

People opening doors using their elbows to avoid touching handles has become a common sight in recent months, but INOX’s antimicrobial door handles allow people to open and close doors without fear of contamination.

INOX has developed an innovative powder coating, called MicroArmor™, which is infused with antimicrobial technology and can be applied during the hardware’s manufacturing process. It works to inhibit the growth and reproduction of harmful bacteria, mould and mildew by up to 99.9 percent.

Silver ions in the coating attach themselves to a microbe’s cellular enzyme, inhibiting the growth of the microbe and reducing the spread of germs. During the manufacturing process, the powder coating is applied to the INOX product, causing the silver ions within it to integrate with the product itself. This gives the hardware 24/7 protection that does not wash off or wear away, maintaining its efficacy for a long period of time.

The technology isn’t limited to door handles either, with INOX providing an antimicrobial coating for all its stainless-steel products, including deadbolts, panic devices and push/pull plates.

Phone sanitisers

Mobile phones harbour ten times more bacteria than the average toilet seat and at a time when hygiene has become a key focus for everyone, this fact has become quite alarming. To tackle this, PhoneSoap has created a range of products to sanitise smartphones and any other items, such as keys and coins, that can fit within its case.

PhoneSoap uses UV-C technology to kill the germs that live on the surface of the phone or object. With lightbulbs on both the top and the bottom of the case, ‘PhoneSoap 3’, achieves 360-degree disinfection, reaching crevices that other cleaning methods cannot.

UV-C lamps work to kill up to 99.9 percent of harmful microbes by producing a specific wavelength of light which is designed to pass through the cell wall, impairing their DNA. Once the DNA is compromised, the cell can no longer cause infections or disease.

PhoneSoap has pursued a holistic IP approach, patenting its technology in the US, as well as registering an international design of the phone sanitiser and an international trade mark for the brand.

Innovation and IP in the midst of a pandemic

COVID-19 has caused a wave of hygiene innovations to flood the market. Whether that be new inventions made specifically to protect against COVID-19, or brands pivoting their existing products to find new uses, competition is stronger than ever in the personal care sector.

As such, it has become even more important for businesses to seek patent protection for their innovations and taking steps to secure patent protection at an early stage is recommended. In this highly competitive environment, a patent can be the difference between success and failure, with competitors and reverse engineers waiting in the wings to take advantage of the public’s current obsession with hygiene.

Many of the products above are the subject of patent, trade mark or design protection, but in such a rapidly evolving market, not all applications will have been published at this stage. In fact, the contents of a patent application remain secret for 18 months in the normal course of examination.

However, businesses may be able to accelerate the patent process if they can prove that their product is eco-friendly or that there is a business need. The Green Channel, run by the UK Intellectual Property Office, provides a fast-tracking service for innovations that offer some benefit for the environment. Alternatively, if a case can be made for acceleration to grant - for instance, a licensing deal or the threat of infringement - the UKIPO are willing to fast track applications. This can be beneficial in highly competitive environments, as is the case for the COVID-19 part of the personal care sector at present, to allow early enforcement of the granted right.

Cleanliness has become a major concern for people during the pandemic, and there are now a host of products and technologies to cater to this. For brands looking to enter this now saturated market, patent protection is an important step to commercialising their invention this festive season and in the New Year.

Dr Joanna Thurston is a partner and patent attorney at intellectual property firm,

Withers & Rogers LLP