Protecting newly-developed metal can coatings

The rise of new BPA-free metal can coatings

The use of metal containers/cans in the food and beverage industry is on the rise, primarily driven by the global movement to reduce single-use plastic in favour of other types of recyclable packaging. Whilst canning food and beverages is of course not a new practice, coatings used to prevent corrosion and spoilage are evolving.

Traditional coatings incorporating epoxy/bisphenol A (BPA) have in recent years been the subject of intense scrutiny, as some studies have shown it to have negative hormonal, estrogenic, reproductive and developmental effects. Consumers now demand BPA-free products, prompting coating providers to remove BPA from their formulas. Increasing scrutiny on the contents of coatings, including BPA as well as other potentially harmful chemicals, is a trend that will continue to fuel creation of alternative formulas.

Challenges  

Achieving the right balance of properties whilst ensuring coatings are safe is a complicated, resource-intensive process that, ultimately, is a business investment resulting in a commercial asset – the coating formula itself.  Coatings may be a differentiator in a market where consumers are educated and looking for what they perceive to be safer packaging.

Creating a BPA-free coating is not as straightforward as simply removing BPA from the formula. Coatings must offer the same performance and benefits of BPA-based coatings, such as good corrosion resistance and good adhesion to the can surface. Where a coating is applied before the can is formed, it must withstand shaping through stamping, creasing and/or flanging, requiring it to have good flexibility and excellent adhesion. It is equally essential that their protective function is not compromised.  Coatings must not contain other chemicals that may ‘leech’ from the coating and contaminate the contents, causing either a health issue to the consumer or causing the contents to spoil. Finally, the coatings must not be too expensive.

Protecting coatings through patents 

After investing significant time, effort and resource in development, how can you ensure your organisation retains and enjoys the commercial benefit of the new coating?  What options are available to prevent competitors from using the formula that your organisation has developed?

One way is to protect your coating with one or more patents. A patent, once granted, allows you to stop another organisation making, selling, etc. a product that falls within the scope of protection. A potential drawback of filing a patent application is that technical details of the coatings become publicly available.  However, whilst it may be tempting to keep the coating formulation as a trade secret, this is very risky where formulations can be reverse engineered from a wet sample.

For a patent to be granted, the invention must be new and ‘inventive’.  As mentioned, the new coatings are in most cases highly innovative, and by that definition inventive, and so may be the subject of a patent (depending on the facts).  However, if the coatings are sold, or otherwise made available to the public, this can be prejudicial to novelty. Therefore, it is essential that a patent is filed, or at least the patent strategy is discussed, before the product is made public.

What can be done now?

For further information about patents and protecting intellectual property in the food and beverage industry, please click here.

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