Who Knew Avon Had Patents?

Recently I was searching for some fun and exciting patent news to write about and I came across a press release put out by Research & Markets announcing that they have initiated coverage of Avon Products, Inc.  Curious due to the fact that my wife recently started selling Avon, I thought I might as well take a look to see why a market research company would focus on Avon. 

Here is what the press release said, at least in part:

The Avon Products, Inc. company report details the company’s key financial data, business operations, technology and patent activities, financial benchmarks against the Toilet Preparation Manufacturing industry in the US, and that industry’s pertinent information such as financial data, downstream industries, competitive landscape, upstream industries, and industry structure.

Who knew that Avon had patents?  I certainly didn’t!  But given that Avon Products generated $9.8 billion in revenues in fiscal year 2007, with a gross profit margin of 60%, it would seem this company sure knows what its doing and the fact that they have an extensive patent portfolio should not be a surprise to anyone. 

As it turns out, if you do a search of the US Patent Office online patent database, which covers patents issued since 1976, Avon Products is the owner of at least 161 patents.  I say at least 161 patents because there are 161 patents in the USPTO database where Avon is listed as the Assignee, which means they are the owner of record.  It is quite possible that Avon Products holds more patents, having acquired them after the patents issued or perhaps patents that simply do not list them as the Assignee.  When you do a search of the Patent Office records looking under the Assignee field you are only going to find those patents where the owner was made of record prior to the patent issuing. 

So what types of patent does Avon have?  Well you might be surprised.  It seems as if Avon does not have many design patents, but rather has a lot of utility patents that cover compositions, products and various methods.  I also suspect that given the fairly recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the chief patent court in the US, Avon will likely seek more design patents moving forward as well.  This is because the Federal Circuit has elevated the design patent, formerly the weak sister in the patent world, to new heights thanks to its decision in the Egyptian Goddess case.  Now the test for whether a design patent has been infringed is one that simply asks whether an ordinary observer would believe the defendant copied the patented design.  This is much broader than the previous test, which required copying of that which was novel, and will make it much easier to prove design patent infringement.  That is almost certainly why Nike sued Wal-Mart only days after the Egyptian Goddess decision.  So all inventors ought to be seriously looking at obtaining design patents, which are much easier to obtain and cost less than a utility patent.  Of course, a utility patent offers broader protections, but designs ought to be an ever more important part of any patent portfolio.

In any event, the most recent patent issued to Avon Products was issued on November 25, 2008.  US Patent No. 7,455,850, entitled “Two-part cosmetic product,” relates to a two-part cosmetic product and method for imparting a filling and swelling effect to skin, lips, hair, eyelashes, and/or eyebrows.  In reality this particular patent only specifically covers the method associated with the cosmetic product because all of the claims in the patent are method claims and it is the claims that legally define the scope of the exclusive protection provided by the granted patent.  Nevertheless, this is a real invention that seems to provide real utility.  I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but so many times I see the truly ridiculous patents, so it is really nice to see a company like Avon utilizing the patent system for what it is intended to provide.  The patent system is intended to reward inventors who tell us about their worthwhile inventions with a patent that gives them exclusive rights for a limited period of time.  This provides the incentive necessary to a company to continue to research and develop new products and methods; products and methods that will ultimately come off patent protection and be available to be freely used by anyone.  In the meantime the patent owner, in this case Avon, can enjoy exclusivity in the marketplace.

Another recent patent issued to Avon Products is US Patent No. 7,431,919, entitled “Mascara composition,” which issued on October 7, 2008.  This particular patent covers a mascara composition that reduces eyelash damage and even though it has low viscosity as compared to typical mascara compositions it surprisingly provides excellent buildup, lengthening and wear.  What makes this patent interesting to me is that it contains pictures as drawings.  First, illustrations are required whenever you file a patent application if illustrations would assist in the understanding of the invention.  Illustrations are almost always capable of assisting understanding, so they are always required in an application except when the application relates to a composition.  The formula of a composition is enough, so drawings or illustrations are not absolutely required, but you can certainly include them.  Photographs do not tend to make very good patent drawings, but here the whole point was to demonstrate the invention applied to an eyelash, so photographs were perfect to demonstrate what the patent attorneys wanted to focus on.   Second, this is in my opinion an excellent example of a composition patent, which is nice to see.  I have a lot of fun with Obscure Patents, and when I teach I use bad patents to show law students what to avoid, so it is nice to come across something well written.

One final parting thought.  If you are looking for an Avon Representative don’t forget my wife, Renee Quinn, can help you with all your needs.


About the Author:

Gene Quinn is a patent attorney and the founder of IPWatchdog.com.

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