Bioplastics patent activity – a renewed focus
The number of patent filings in 2020 suggests a renewed upsurge in bioplastics innovation activity, despite a relative decline since 2003.
The types of innovation shown in patents among the leading filers includes a focus on biopolymer composition and structure, such as biodegradable materials used in orthopaedic medical devices and cleaning products.
Investment in developing new, biodegradable polymer blends is also aimed at creating greater bioplastic strength and flexibility while other biopolymer compositions are designed to make plastic bags both biodegradable and easier to open.
Other sustainable applications using polymers include eco-friendly wallpaper and a sensor to measure soil temperature and humidity.
Recent patent filings have been driven by organisations in Europe, South Korea and Japan, though previously leading Japanese companies such as Toray Industries have fallen behind German and Korean businesses BASF and LG Chemical in bioplastics filing volume.
Plastics recycling – finding alternatives to mechanical recycling
Analysis of patent filings in plastics recycling technology shows that innovation is gathering speed and is likely to continue.
US-based Eastman, a speciality materials company, is a top patent filer in plastics recycling, along with Bridgestone, Chevron and Solvay.
Eastman’s filings since 2018 – which reference 12 out of 20 patent families filed by Saudi Aramco subsidiary, SABIC, in 2015 and 2016 – suggest an explosion of innovation in the field, especially connected to an improved process for pyrolyzing mixed plastic waster (breaking down and recycling polymers).
Plastics innovation – the future
“Patent filing data shows that activity remains focused on improving the mechanical properties of bioplastics for mass production and the bulk of patent filings seem set to emphasise iterative and bespoke improvements,” said David Walsh, a partner at Appleyard Lees.
“And, in plastics recycling, while there is innovation in pyrolysis techniques we anticipate increased patent activity in enzymatic breakdown of existing polymers and see early indications of interest in ring opening polymerisation and ring closing depolymerisation.”
With the publication of Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2021, Appleyard Lees aims to by-pass the environmental rhetoric and highlight the true state of progress in developing new, sustainable technologies, he said. "The patent system requires public disclosure of new innovations, providing a valuable resource to identify which innovations could bring new advantages to the world.”