Evolution of masks advanced by COVID-19
-Sudden increase of patent application filings in relation to technologies for customized intelligent masks and resolving mask-related inconveniences-
Last July, one domestic company drew a lot of attention by donating ‘electronic masks with air cleaning function’ to medical teams, not the typical hygiene masks. With such masks, one can breathe easily since interconnect fan speed is adjusted with a respiration monitor sensor and also the filter changing period is notified to a user’s smart phone by push alarm. Other new masks shown to the public take into consideration people’s physical limitations such as transparent masks for the hearing-impaired or masks that reduce ear pain, etc., and also customized masks are appearing which attempt to resolve inconveniences caused by wearing masks for a long time.
According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), filing of applications related to masks increased an average of more than 40% annually, from 68 cases in 2013 to 416 cases in 2019. Especially, for the present year in which the COVID-19 pandemic began, 1,129 cases were filed by the end of August, a number which is more than 2.7 times higher than the number of all cases filed last year.
Number of annual patent application filings related to masks (from 2013 to end of August 2020)
By such trend, it is analyzed that demand for and attention to masks increased due to the need to protect life and health from respiratory infections such as from fine dust designated as cancer-causing agents (2013), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus [MERSC] (2015) and COVID-19 (2020), etc.
Regarding applicants, while the number of applications filed by foreigners including foreign corporations stayed steady, the number of applications filed by domestic small and medium sized businesses and individuals increased continuously.
* Ratio of applications filed by foreigners vs radio of applications filed by domestics: 22.1% (2013) vs 77.9% → (2019) 1.7% vs 98.3%
Number and ratio of patent applications related to masks filed by type of applicant
[Filings of application cases (case), filings of application ratio (%)]
Expansion of domestic corporations’ market entrance due to mask market expansion and the various ideas of citizens in order to resolve inconveniences caused by habitually wearing masks has seemingly lead to this result of such a large number of application filings. It is expected that the patent assets which are being accumulated by corporations and citizens during this era will lead to the production of revolutionary products in the future.
There are still a lot of tasks to be resolved in relation to masks which look so simple. Stuffiness, disturbance of conversation, problems related to skin such as rubbed skin and infection, avoidance of wearing masks due to smell and also problems related to the environment caused by tossed disposable mask are all of concern.
To solve such problems, applications related to various technologies are being filed. For example, adding fans, valves and speakers in order to make breathing easier or to deliver voice more easily, increasing mask wearing comfort by ergonomically designing the parts that touch the skin and also using naturally self-decomposable materials so that problems related to the environment can be prevented.
Further, healthcare masks containing testing kits, smart masks with IOT (Internet of Things) functions, oxygen-concentrating masks and masks for companion animals are being developed as customized products in which additional functions are fused, and so filings of related applications are increasing.
Meanwhile, KIPO has been providing patent information related to masks through a ‘COVID-19 patent information navigator’ on its internet website since March 2020 in order to help domestic corporations’ mask development.
The Section Chief of the Residential Technology Examination Division stated, “It is anticipated that the mask market will seemingly develop continuously because of COVID-19*” and also said, “In order for domestic corporations to preoccupy domestic or overseas mask markets, intellectual property portfolios including patents along with development of products meeting consumers’ needs must be built.”
* The disposable mask market is estimated to be approximately 75 billion dollars (approximately 88 trillion 400 billion won) on the basis of the first quarter of 2020, and it is anticipated to grow 53% annually until 2027 (Grand view Research, April 2020).
Meanwhile, KIPO announced that they will drastically ease requirements for submitting design drawings, to be applied to applications filed after September 1, 2020, in order for design applications to be filed more easily.