Patent of the month - Drying hair can be innovative

In April 2016, the revolutionary Dyson Supersonic hairdryer was launched after four years of research and development activity, costing the company around £50 million.

This innovative product is a good example of how technology developed for one market, in this case vacuum cleaners, can be taken and used to solve problems in a completely different field.

The team at Dyson recognised that traditional hairdryers can be cumbersome and prone to cause damage to hair. Whilst manufacturers have been developing products to protect hair from heat damage for some time, Dyson chose to concentrate on developing a hairdryer that operates at lower, less-damaging, temperatures, using technology that had previously been used in their vacuum cleaners and hand dryers.

As a prolific patent filer, Dyson chose to protect its investment in the development of the new hairdryer using a number of intellectual property rights. These included trade secrets, keeping details of the R&D activity a tightly guarded secret; registered designs to protect the appearance of the product and patents to protect the new and inventive technical features of the product.

One recently-granted patent, UK patent number GB2537511, describes a hand-held appliance with features that are designed to improve the manageability of the appliance.

As shown in Figure 1, the handle, feature 20, of the appliance includes a cable, feature 50, that extends centrally from the handle to ensure that the hairdryer is balanced regardless of the angle it is held in while in use. The handle is also designed to prevent the cable being pulled when a user changes the position of their hand. This means that the weight distribution of the hairdryer does not change depending on its orientation, which could be uncomfortable for the user. The handle has also been designed to accommodate the fan unit, feature 70, which includes a fan and a motor, which is much smaller than those used in conventional hairdryers.When combined, these features provide a hairdryer that is more user-friendly and less unwieldy.

Other features developed in the course of the R&D programme are the subject of additional patent applications. These include features designed to ensure the hairdryer operates at no more than 150°C; reduce noise; minimise pressure losses and control air flow; as well as to provide precision drying attachments. In this way, Dyson has succeeded in building a wall of intellectual property protection around a single product.