The vegan homecare revolution: how to protect your product
Withers & Rogers explore the vegan homecare overhaul and help businesses understand how to blossom in this marketplace
Consumer demand for vegan consumables and other products is growing rapidly and it is now estimated that around a quarter of people in the UK will live a vegan lifestyle by 2025. The movement is driven by increasing awareness of the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industries, concern for the welfare of animals and personal health benefits. With a vast amount of food and drink plant-based alternatives available, consumers are now starting to look at how they can incorporate their ethical beliefs into other areas of their lives, such as homecare.
As the homecare industry builds on ongoing interest in sustainable living, more vegan products are beginning to emerge. In some cases, these products have taken years to develop, and brand owners are understandably reluctant to allow competitors to copy their innovations. With this in mind, intellectual property protection has become an important consideration when preparing to bring a new product to market.
The vegan homecare market is rapidly becoming crowded, with larger brands and SMEs alike seeking their slice of the cruelty-free revolution. Often, consumers will choose products that were first to market, as they are trusted and established names. This can make it more difficult for newcomers to make an impact and so to do so, new entrants to the market are increasingly focused on creating truly innovative products.
Patent Protection and Environmentalism
In a crowded market, patent protection becomes even more important. It ensures a brand has a competitive edge by stopping others from copying their formulations and potentially beating them to the shelves. However, obtaining protection in the vegan homecare space can be a difficult task, with innovative products having to prove that they are new and inventive to fulfil the eligibility criteria for patentability. This means that swapping out an animal ingredient for a known vegan alternative is unlikely to be enough.
Examples of vegan homecare patents include Pipper Standard’s European patent (EP3046425), which uses fermented fruit as a cleaning solution. Comprising a pineapple solution fermented in lactic acid bacteria, this cleaning product is made entirely from natural vegan ingredients. By starting from scratch, rather than finding vegan alternatives for existing formulations, Pipper Standard has created a product unlike any other on the market, being awarded patent protection for a truly innovative idea.
Many vegan homecare innovations also offer a number of other environmental benefits. Method’s patented liquid cleaning products (EP2346976) are made of plant-based ingredients and are never tested on animals. Consisting of a surfactant system, water, a solvent system and an enzyme, Method’s products provide effective cleaning with lower doses of the active ingredients. These highly-concentrated, reduced-weight formulations reduce the amount of packaging required and lower the energy consumption involved in transporting them around the country, protecting the environment in a multitude of ways.
Similarly, Blueland’s pending US patent application (US2020/377827A1) for a laundry detergent in solid tablet form, also uses cruelty-free ingredients and helps to protect the environment, thanks to its concentrated formulation. At three times smaller than average laundry detergent pods, the innovative tablets require less packaging and are much lighter to transport. This lowers the whole-life carbon footprint of the product, while removing the need for single-use plastic. Solid formulations are often very different from liquid solutions, offering an inventive distinction from what is already known.
Patent protection offers a 20-year period of exclusivity, during which no-one can copy the product, making it an essential part of a brand’s IP strategy. However, in a competitive marketplace, it can be wise to take a more multi-dimensional approach to IP protection. Using trade secrets alongside patents, for example, can help to protect an innovation while it is being developed. However, careful management is required to keep the secret, with aspects including employee awareness of the issue and non-disclosure agreements used to ensure valuable information isn’t leaked to the marketplace. Further, it is recommended that trade secrets are stored in a tamper-proof and time-stamped digital form, which, if necessary, can be used to prove their existence at a certain date.
Brand Identity, Loyalty and Trademarks
The importance of developing a strong brand identity means it is becoming more common for larger companies to acquire smaller, more established cruelty-free businesses, which already have loyal consumers. For example, Seventh Generation, a brand dedicated to environmentally-friendly products, was acquired by Unilever in 2016. Consumers are more likely to trust these brands as they have a track record in vegan product development. This way, the larger company benefits commercially, without having to directly compete in an already crowded marketplace.
This being said, many bigger brands are making changes, repurposing products and developing vegan formulas. As alternative ingredients are widely known and available, the science involved in such activity is fairly straightforward. However, these companies do have to re-educate consumers and prove that the brand is dedicated to a cruelty-free approach. Trade marks can assist with this, as the creation of new slogans or logos can help to align the brand with a vegan lifestyle, demonstrating the brand’s commitment to change. As such, it is worth considering trade mark protection when forming an overall IP strategy for the vegan homecare market. Another useful tool is to seek accreditation from associations such as the Vegan society, lending credibility to the brand.
When developing a new product, the business should take advice on whether it is likely to be patentable. If it is, it is important to file an application early on, to minimise the risk of early disclosure. If the innovation has a demonstrable environmental benefit, as many vegan products do, then the patent may be granted quicker if it is passed through the UK’s Green Channel, a service that accelerates the patent application process for environmentally friendly inventions. The patent owner cannot bring an infringement action or seek to block a competitor’s activities until the patent is granted, so the faster this can be done, the better, particularly in a competitive space such as this.
Many people have switched to a vegan lifestyle in recent years, and even those that have yet to make the move completely, are buying more cruelty-free products. Brands have reacted to this shift in consumer preferences, flooding the market with vegan products. By taking a strategic approach to IP protection, considering patents, trade marks and trade secrets, innovative companies can secure a share of this fast-developing market opportunity.
By Dr Joanna Thurston, a patent attorney and head of the Homecare group at intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers LLP
About Withers & Rogers:
Established in 1884, Withers & Rogers LLP is a leading European intellectual property (IP) firm providing expert advice on the protection and enforcement of IP rights particularly for inventions, designs and trade marks. Reflecting the firm’s distinctive entrepreneurial personality, its patent and trade mark attorneys come with a depth of specialist understanding and pride themselves on helping businesses to commercialise their IP.
With over 200 partners and staff, Withers & Rogers has four offices in the UK (London, Bristol, Leamington Spa and Sheffield) and two further offices in Paris and Munich. The firm’s client portfolio stretches across the Americas, the Far East and Australia as well as mainland Europe.
Withers & Rogers has a large, technology-diverse client base ranging from major corporations and multi-nationals to small and medium-sized enterprises and universities, withersrogers.com
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