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06 January 2009

Patents: Toilet Paper

I was doing some housework last week and the packaging on my toilet paper caught my attention. There listed, were quite a few patents (38 in total) protecting the inventiveness and novelty of... toilet paper. Let's face it--people have been wiping their butts since people have had butts--which is probably a very long time. I figured this is one area there wouldn't be much room for innovation, at least not in the last 100 years or so (the last great leap having been the move from newspaper to real tissue). Curiosity piqued, list of patents in hand I began consulting the Great Google Patent Search.

For the record the pack of toilet paper declares that it is "Charmin Ultrasoft" 9-pack, manufactured by Proctor and Gamble. Here is what I found...

1. Patent 5114771. And improvement on the perforator blade used to perforate the roll into squares. The drawings include lots of diagrams relating to the tension required to tear the perforated sheets. Personally, I think toilet paper is easy to tear in the first place, but this beats having to ship a pair of scissors with every role. Issued in 1992.

2. Patent 5143776. If I'm reading this the right way, this patents the way PG binds the tissue plys (referred to as lamina in the patent document) together. I didn't get too deep into this one because the term "lamina" made me uncomfortable. It is generally agreed that multiple-ply tissue is one of the greater modern conveniences. Anything that can be done to make this process better must be welcomed with open arms. Issued in 1992.

3. Patent 5240562. A chemical softening composition. This is amazing. I had no idea this much science went into the comfort of my toiletries. This patent describes the solution PG uses to make their toilet paper softer. Issued in 1993. And yes, I expect the public places of the world to be a much better place in 2013 when this patent expires and the generics can make use of this solution.

4. Patent 5274930. Improved apparatus for drying the toilet paper during manufacture. This is what I think of when I think of patents. An innovation (if even only minor) that gives a competitive edge (unlike one-click). Issued 1994.

5. Patent 5328565. Protects the way PG applies "aesthetic patterns" on the toilet paper. What I really wish they'd come up with are current events on the toilet paper. You know--something to occupy me. Issued 1994.

6. Patent 5581906. More refinements for the drying apparatus. Issued 1996. Apparently PG R+D took 1995 off.

7. Patent 5584126. Fifteen seconds of reading and I couldn't tell the difference between this and 5581906. PG R+D apparently taking it easy in 1996 when this patent was issued.

8. Patent 5584128. Yes, yes it is. More refinements for the drying apparatus. Issued 1996.

9. Patent 5671897. Real innovation! This one describes an improvement to the core that toilet paper is rolled on. It too has gained a second ply that covers the ply gap on the first ply. Issued 1997. Apparently, the "how can we dry our TP better?" crisis of '96 was resolved to satisfaction.

10. Patent 5679222. Describes the belt toilet paper is manufactured on. Issued 1997.

11. Patent 5728268. We have HD TV, we now of HD (high density) toilet paper. Structurally describes a single ply tissue that is actually strong (removes the need for two-ply). This, I assume, will allow them to get more toilet paper on to a single roll. Issued 1998.

12. Patent 5827384. A better process for bonding webs. Web binding process patents date back to at least 1983 when the "dynamic laminating method for ultrasonically bonding juxtaposed webs" was de rigeur. I'm assuming that "web" somehow refers to toilet paper. Otherwise, I don't want to know. Issued 1998.

13. Patent 5846380. Describes a new kind of toilet paper. Specifically a creped tissue paper having a "slap/stick coefficient of less than 0.024" and a lint level of less than 6. Jokes aside--those of us who have ever suffered an unfortunate slap/stick incident involving toilet paper (*cough* everybody *cough*) truly benefit from this one. And less toilet paper lint makes the world a happier place too. Issued 1998.

14. Patent 5855738. Another HD tissue patent. This process supposedly makes the tissue smoother, enabling a higher density roll. This means more squares on a roll. And as we all know, the more squares there are, the less we're going to hear "can someone bring me a roll of TP" being shouted down the hall. Issued 1999.

15. Patent 5865396. More core enhancements. Not much different than 5671897. This enhancement prevents the core from *ever* being only one ply thick. Always 2-ply now, and sometimes 3 when the seam is getting overlapped. Issued 1999.

16. Patent 5865950. Improved process for creping tissue paper. The innovation here is that drying seems to happen faster, simplifying production. It doesn't make the toilet paper better though. I can see how this protects PG from disgruntled former employees though. "Hey, for $50 bucks I'll tell you how to dry your toilet paper faster!" Issued 1999.

17. Patent 5942085. Another method for creping the toilet paper. Seems to improve on 5865950. Issued 1999.

18. Patent 5944954. Patents the adhesive used in the creping method above. 1999 is turning out to be the year fancy creping came to toilet paper manufacturing.

19. Patent 5980691. The engineers at PG found a way to make their HD TP smoother. This is the process. Issued 1999.

20. Patent 6036139. Another core innovation. This one is two ply, but the plys are different. The inner ply has more resistance to compression, while the outer ply has more resistance to tension. The net effect is that this core is more suitable for rolls that are diametrically compressed. I assume that diametric compression on a TP roll refers to applying pressure to both the top and the bottom of the roll simultaneously. Yay, less crushed toilet paper means more usable toilet paper. Issued 2000.

21. Patent 6048938. Improved creping process. This seems to be the real innovation point when it comes to producing toilet paper. Issued 2000.

22. Patent 6106670. Alters the process of making HD TP. Even smoother now (see pictures of old crepe vs new crepe). It seems odd that refinement goes into making crepes (which is intended to introduce folds) more smooth. Issued 2000.
23. Patent 6126784. Patents a softening method whereby the chemical softener is applied to one side of the toilet paper and eventually makes contact with the second side causing it to be soft too. Soft toilet paper is good toilet paper. Issued 2000.

24. Patent 6149769. Describes a process for toilet paper production wherein the wet toilet paper is stronger than the previous method. This is accomplished via layering and may be creped of uncreped. Perhaps the creping revolution of 1999 is fizzling. Issued 2000.

25. Patent 6162329. Increases toilet paper softness by adding an electrolyte. This patent lists a frighteningly large number of chemicals that I'm not sure I want to come in contact with my back end. Sixes if you ask me. Issued 2000.

26. Patent 6187138. Supposedly a BRAND NEW METHOD for creping toilet paper. Behold, the comeback of creping. Issued 2001.

27. Patent 6207734. Refines the creping process a bit more by adding an adhesive to the creping surace (typically a roller). Creping, I am discovering, takes place when the toilet paper is already dry. If you haven't put it together by now, creping in TP are the very tiny folds you can't see (imagine a very tiny paper fan like you used to make in elementary school) that give the toilet paper some stretchability when you use it. This is good because the stretching is what helps your fingers stay on one side of the toilet paper during use. Issued 2001.

28. Patent 6420013. A better multi-ply tissue. Two plys, which appear to be positive and negative sawtooth functions. Also described are the chemicals applied to make the whole things soft. I thought we had the softness and strength problems whipped, guys? I fail to see how this makes better toilet paper. Issued 2002. (See figure).
29. Patent 6464831. An aesthetic patent. It describes a method of adding decorative patterns to toilet paper. This is the second of the patents that list the attorneys that helped with it, and it is quite noticeably longer than the previous patent descriptions. Issued 2002.

30. Patent 6547928 (we're almost done!). Improves the chemical used to soften toilet paper. According to the abstract it has more "stringiness" that makes it easier to spray using compressed air. All I really care about is the softness. Issued 2003.

31. Patent 6572722. This one talks about lamina--I'll keep it brief. It improves the process of bonding two plies together by not bonding the entire surface area of the lamina, but only bonding at certain contact points (like the spaced stiches of a quilt). I wonder what the deficiency of the previous bonding process was? Issued 2003.

AUTHORS NOTE: The rest of the patents are quite boring, by which I do not wish for you to assume I think the previous patents are entertaining. They are not. My descriptions hopefully induced a giggle or two, but patents are quite serious in general. So with that, the following patents are more boring than the previous patents. Feel free to skip to the end. Or, if you are concerned about the innovations that make your bathroom experiences more comfortable, read on, read on...

32. Patent 6579416. A new softening composition. Just when you think it couldn't get any better, it does. Issued 2003.

33. Patent 6607637. Softening composition improvements. Issued 2003.

34. Patent 6755939. Softening composition improvements. Issued 2004.

35. Patent 6797117. Lowers the viscosity of the softening composition. Makes production easier. Issued 2004.

36. Patent 6845282. Describes a method of using feedback to control the tension of the toilet paper (referred to as a "web") while it is manufactured. Issued 2005.

37. Patent 6948378. Related to 6845282. Describes the method used to measure the tension of the web (toilet paper) while it is moving. Issued 2005.

38. Patent 7035706. For whatever reason, Google didn't know about this one. I had to find the description elsewhere. It seems to describe a method of throttling production output using the velocity of production as feedback. Issued 2006.

And there you have it. That is what the TP engineers at Proctor and Gamble have been up to for the last little while. Just think--it all ends with your end.