Are patents a hindrance or a booster of innovation?

SibechSibech Member, Professional Chemist
edited August 2018 in Innovation
So every industry will have patents, but as I see it, cosmetic patents are a class of their own.
Cosmetic ingredient suppliers take out patents (or apply so it is no longer "novel") on cosmetics using their products (to prevent market shrinkage if someone were to patent it after the fact).
Patents are granted usually out for specific/narrow formulations and most patents can thus be circumvented with relatively minor modifications.

Then the other day I found this patent for a baby shampoo/shower gel

While reading through it I was amazed by how broad the patent actually is and perplexed of why it was granted and certain that if push came to shove, the patent wouldn't hold up in court.

Regardless of validity, it got me wondering (as the title clearly gives away) - What do you guys think, is it hindering or boosting innovation?

Edit: Spelling mistake.
Dabbling Formulator — Qualified Cosmetic Safety Assessor — experienced in claim substantiation & EU regulatory affairs.


  • smoksmok Member
    ا find that this subject is very important which dates from 2018
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    There are a lot of discussions so it's hard to respond to every one. I agree that this is a good topic though. 

    I don't think patents in the cosmetic industry help innovation much. I only say that because the products we use today are pretty much no different than the ones we use 20 or even 30 years ago. This is despite the fact that tens or even hundreds of thousands of patents have been issued in the last few decades.

    So, maybe they hinder innovation?
  • PharmaPharma Member, Pharmacist
    My gut feeling is that they don't help.
    Patents by l'Oréal are often a copy-paste of ALL ingredients they can possibly think of. It's as if they want to claim everything with one piece of paper.
    You frequently find phrases like "Incorporation rate from 10 to 90%, by preference 20 to 80%, more precisely 30-70%, and optimally 40-60%". Just in case they get thrown out of court because of the "too broad/vague claim".
    What's helpful with that and how is that meant to boost innovation?
    They mostly just patent protect academic research transformed to be probably used in cosmetics and make sure that one day, when their employees figure out how to do it, it's just them who are allowed to do so. The, one day, they bring out a new science-based product claiming to use a new technology when in fact their cosmetic chemists know sh*** about that technology and they simply managed to include something which can be sold as if and is suitable playground for the marketing team. By doing so, they not only don't use the innovation (which isn't necessarily theirs to begin with) for anything great, they just make sure the others don't get the chance to make money with it (either by only marketing it or by truly creating something ingenious).
  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    In cosmetics, you're better off using the trade secrets route than patents. Patents would only really be relevant if you have a proprietary ingredient or combination of ingredients that have some specific effect/benefit.

    Then the issue becomes that you have to defend the patent which can be quite an undertaking unto itself.  Just not worth the effort.

    It's easy enough to work around most patents anyhow.
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details
  • Patents are painful and the product is going to be copied pretty quickly anyway. There is enough work just getting the product out to market than worrying about an expensive patent.
    Dr. Catherine Pratt
    (B.Sc with HONS I , Ph.D Analytical/Organic Chem and Microbiology), Cosmetic Chemistry IPCS)
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