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In the last 12 months, nearly 95 companies have taken out advertisements in Ceramic Industry. A search on these companies as assignees on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website (www.uspto.gov) reveals that only about 40% own issued U.S. patents and/or published U.S. patent applications. Put another way, about 60% of the products or services advertised may not be patented or patent pending.
This does not mean that other types of intellectual property protection do not exist. Trademark, trade dress, trade secret and (under some circumstances) copyright protection might be in effect. It is also possible that some companies are offering products or services under licensing agreements that are patented or patent pending by others.
A Closer Look
Of the 41 companies that are assigned issued U.S. patents and/or published U.S. patent applications, one is listed as the assignee of over 2,500 issued patents and over 450 published applications. Four others are listed as the assignees of about 100-250 issued patents and about 100 published applications.
Almost half are listed as the assignees of five or fewer issued patents; of these companies, many do not own published patent applications. This might indicate that these companies’ businesses are based on a limited core technology.
Companies that are assignees of larger numbers of issued patents tend to own a larger percentage of published applications. This indicates active R&D departments and a forward-looking view of business opportunities based on newer technologies and/or advancements in existing technologies.
Patent Activity by Geographic Area
Geographically, the advertisers having 30 or more issued patents are mostly foreign entities with U.S. divisions. To look at activity in ceramic technologies beyond the company advertisers, a class/subclass search of published patent applications was conducted on the USPTO website for class 501, subclass 1 (ceramic compositions) and class 264, subclass 603 (outside of mold sintering or vitrifying of shaped inorganic article or preform).
Regarding ceramic compositions, the most recent activity (based upon the last 100 published patent applications) indicates a close tie between the U.S. and Japan, with German companies owning a little less than half as many published patent applications as either American or Japanese companies. Only a handful of other companies, including those in Taiwan, South Korea, Switzerland and Great Britain, seem to have recent activity in developing ceramic compositions. A modest amount of activity in the development of ceramic compositions has been conducted by universities, as well as a more limited number of government agencies in the U.S., Japan and Korea.
For sintering and vitrifying processes (based upon the last 100 published patent applications), the U. S. shows a modest lead over Japan, with German companies owning about one-fourth as many published patent applications as U.S. companies and about one-third as many published patent applications as Japanese companies. It is interesting to note that, in addition to the countries that are active in developing ceramic compositions, companies in Canada, Liechtenstein, Australia, France, Turkey and the Netherlands collectively own about 10% of the recently published patent applications directed to sintering and vitrifying processes.
Compositions and Processes
In order to determine the most recent active areas throughout all of class 501 (including subclasses 1-155) and class 264 (including subclasses 603-682), a count of all the published patent applications in each of these classes/subclasses was conducted.
For ceramic compositions, the most recently active areas are:
• Glass compositions that include glass and a material other than glass wherein the glass is the bonding agent (subclass 32)
• Titanate, zirconate, stannate, niobate, or tantalate or oxide of titanium, zirconium, tin, niobium, or tantalum containing (e.g., dielectrics, etc.) (subclass 134)
• Glass compositions that include glass and 40-90% silica and boron and aluminum wherein the glass is the bonding agent (subclass 66)
• Glass compositions that include glass and 40-90% silica and yttrium or rare earth (i.e., elements with atomic numbers of 39 or 57-71) wherein the glass is the bonding agent (subclass 64)
• Glass compositions that include glass and 40-90% silica and boron and divalent metal oxide (e.g., oxides of zinc, cadmium, beryllium, alkaline earth metal, magnesium, etc.) wherein the glass is the bonding agent (subclass 69)
• Aluminum compound containing (subclass 153)
• Yttrium, lanthanide, actinide or transactinide containing (i.e., atomic numbers 39 or 57-71 or 89+) (subclass 152)
• Barium titanate (subclass 137)
• Ceramic compositions (not otherwise specific) (subclass 1)
• Titanium containing (subclass 135)
For sintering and vitrifying processes, the most recently active areas are:
• Producing an article having a plurality of honeycomb-shaped channels (subclass 63)
• Ceramic containing electrode, or coil electrode, or coil having ceramic portion, or shaped electrolyte body (subclass 618)
• Producing metal oxide-containing product (subclass 681)
• Shaping or treating of multilayered, impregnated, or composite-structured article (subclass 642)
• Outside of mold sintering or vitrifying of shaped inorganic article or preform (not otherwise specific) (subclass 603)
• Electrical article or electrical component (i.e., not insulator, per se) (subclass 614)
• Producing microporous article (e.g., filter, etc.) (subclass 628)
• Shaped by extrusion (e.g., spinning, etc.) (subclass 638)
• Applying hot isostatic fluid pressure to preform using surrounding liquid (e.g., molten glass, melted tin, etc.) or fluid pressure-transmitting deformable sheath (e.g., metal foil, etc.) (subclass 604)
• Producing silicon carbide containing product (subclass 682)
The patent information is somewhat general and could be further refined by factoring in the publication dates of the published patent applications. Because patent applications are not typically published until 18 months from their filing date, the information may not be current. Still, a review of this information is intended for those involved with ceramic industry technology to be aware of the industry players and consider whether company products and technologies so critical to the company’s enterprise value have received proper intellectual property protection.
Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.