Patent of the month - Brushing up on your competitors

Have you ever wished that you knew more about what your competitors are up to? With a strong track record in your target market, you may think you know quite a bit about R&D activity underway and who is leading it. But how much do you really know about the products a competitor will launch next and the innovations they are likely to include?

Even in a relatively mature sector, like toothbrushes, it is always possible that a new entrant will want to innovate to steal market share. Registered intellectual property rights, such as patents, can provide a valuable insight into this type of activity. Keeping track of patent applications in your sector could also tell you if a more established competitor is developing a rival product.

Dyson is predominantly known for its innovative vacuum cleaners of course. However, the business has also designed and manufactured many other consumer appliances such as hairdryers and cooling fans. It is even working on the development of an all-electric vehicle. What you might not expect to discover however, is that Dyson may also be looking to launch a new electric toothbrush, as can be seen from recently granted European patent number EP 3294192 B1. Not only does the existence of this patent provide intelligence that Dyson is looking to launch a new toothbrush; it also provides details of the specific innovations that the new product could feature.

As can be seen from the drawing included in the published patent, the innovative toothbrush features a reciprocating bristle head (30). However, unlike existing electric toothbrushes the head includes a nozzle (36) at the centre of the bristles. This nozzle forms part of a fluid delivery system, which dispenses a burst of fluid directly to the teeth of the user. This explains the unusual spherical feature (34) shown in the drawing, which is actually a reservoir to contain the fluid.

This published document shows clearly that Dyson is working on designs for an electric toothbrush with an inbuilt nozzle, which provides the dual functionality of movable bristles and a water pick in order to provide a better cleaning action. One day, this product could be launched on the market.

Although patent searching can provide a good source of competitor intelligence, it is important to realise that a patent application is not typically published until 18 months after it is filed. Therefore, it is possible for a business to protect its innovations via a patent application, without a competitor immediately finding out about it. Furthermore, early-stage designs can change significantly during their development programme and so published applications may not provide an accurate representation of any market-ready end product.

For other innovators involved in the development of consumer appliances, patent mapping research can play a valuable role in informing their R&D activity and supporting their development of commercially viable products.