Monday, July 7, 2014

Oh, patents! Chewing gum…

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

So, you thought that chewing gum was…just chewing gum!

Well, you are right about the chewing but you may be surprised in regards the gum – a highly patented food acceptable tri-block polymeric composition and an artefact of historic proportions!

 Indeed, chewing gun has been used for millennia, albeit harvested more naturally as sap from the bark of various trees (just like  latex harvested from rubber trees). For example, chewing gum was harvested as birch bark tar in Finland during the Neolithic age, 3000 years ago; in Mexico by the Aztecs, 2000 years ago, in the form of chicle or tziktli in Nahuatl, harvested from the bark of the sapodilla tree; in Ancient Greece, as mastic extracted from the mastic tree; from Spruce trees and used by American Indians, and later commercialized by the New England settlers in 1848 as The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum (Wikipedia, Chewing gum and chicle).

The first chewing gum patents were filed at the end of the 19th century:
US 98304(1869) - Improved chewing gum (also used as “dentifrice” aka toothpaste)
US107693 (1870) - Improvement in chewing gum (as a healthful substitute for addiction to chewing or smoking tobacco. This improvement is purported a tobacco antidote)
US193045 (1877) - Improvement in confectionary composition

 During the course of history chewing gum has acquired many different purposes, some of which are still valid to date. Breath freshener, cavity control, tobacco substitute, toothpaste substitute, teeth whitener and aid for digestion, are just a few of these enduring purposes. And since the end of the 19th century many chewing gum patents have been filed. The EPO returned 8497 hits for a search on chewing gum!

Among the types of patents retuned, there are: Chewing gum compositions which switched from natural plant-based polymers harvested from trees to synthetic polymers during the early 60s; methods of manufacturing chewing gum; various forms of packaging and conditioning of chewing gum in sticks and tablets; the flavoring and fragrances of chewing gum, and methods for controlling the release of fragrances and flavors. The following short list includes examples of these types of chewing patents:

Chewing gum compositions
US2010215799 - Chewing gum composition
US6986907 B2 - Chewing gum base and chewing gum compositions
US2014161739 - Hydrophylic gum base
US2013052301 Chewing gum compositions 

Chewing gum manufacturing patents
US6322828 - Process for manufacturing a pharmaceutical chewing gum
US5773053 - Chewing gum base manufacturing process using plurality of softening agents inlets
US5976581 - Continuous chewing gum manufacturing process using rework gum
US6030647 - Continuous chewing gum manufacturing process for gum with controlled flavor release
US5486366  - Continuous chewing gum manufacturing process using a mixing restriction element

Chewing gum flavor and fragrance patents
US2224637 (1940) - Chocolate flavored chewing gum
US5156865  - Method of adding licorice to chewing gum
US2014171517 – 4-mercapto-5methyl-4heptanone and its use in flavor and fragrance compositions
US3818107 - Chewing gum with sustained flavor release compositions
US2596852 - Permanently favored chewing gum base
US7022352 - Encapsulated flavors and chewing gum using same
US3826847 A - Process for preparation of flavor durable chewing gum

Chewing gum packaging patents
WO2014089045 (Wrigley) - Unitary flexible packaging
US 6001297 - Chewing gum wrapped in a single wrapper that is properly sealed
US5510124  - Method for packaging single unit of chewing gum and chewing gum so packaged
EP0994812 - Packaged chewing gum and methods of packaging chewing gum
US5376388  - Use of edible film to improve the packaging of chewing gum
US5309697 - Chewing gum packaging machine

Plus one modern, and highly persistent problem connected to chewing gum, considering the 3 million tons of chewing gum produced each year, concerns the removal of “cuds” from asphalt! The term “cud” refers to the water-insoluble portion of the gum, remaining after it has been chewed. Gum cuds stick to pavements for an average of 5 years unless removed, and the costs of removing cuds are, for example, estimated at 6 million Euros in a city like London (in the UK) [Planetscope]. Various patented solutions to this environmental problem appear such as “biodegradable and environmental gum” or chewing gum compositions that are less adhesive. The following is a list of gum removal patents:

Chewing gum removal patents
US2011319309 -  Compositions and methods for the removal of chewing gum residues from substrates
US2014065242 - Biodegradable chewing gum comprising at least one high molecular weight biodegradable  polymer
US2013108732 - Biodegradable chewing gum
US2010074987 - Environmental chewing gum

Images of early commercialized 19th century chewing gum and more modern forms are included as well as the below abstract and Figure 1 tri-bloc polymer structures for US2013052301, titled Chewing gum compositions, awarded to Wrigley, addressing the issue of removal from pavements:  

Abstract - US2013052301 Chewing gum compositions (Wrigley)

A chewing gum base which is cud-forming and chewable at mouth temperature contains a food acceptable tri-block copolymer having the form A-B-A or A-B-C and comprising a soft mid-block which constitutes at least 30 wt. % of the total polymer and hard end-blocks each having a glass transition temperature below 70 DEG C. The tri-block copolymer is optionally plasticized with a compatible di-block copolymer to function as an elastomer system in the gum base.
If you are wondering how chewing gum really took off in the industrialized world, from a commercial standpoint, at the turn of the 20th century? Here is what is on record, in a nutshell: Two packs of Wrigley gum were included for free with every purchase of one can of Baking Soda, manufactured by Wrigley, until gum sales exceeded Baking Soda sales and Wrigley concentrated only on chewing gum. US soldiers then exported chewing gum to Europe during World War II. Wrigley's Juicy Fruit and Spearmint chewing gum were first produced in 1893!  [Wrigley]

Wikipedia – Article on Chewing gum
Wikipedia  - Article on Chicle
Wikipedia - Article on Wrigley Company
Wrigley Company
Planetescope : La consommation mondiale du chewing gum

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