P&G recognizes that innovation today is part of the complete picture of the product. Although focus on technologies yields patentable components, a product is not just the technology but also the delivery and interaction of that technology. For many years, the technology was the focus, the function of a utility patent. In recent years,
P&G has recognized that the style aspect of IP is equally important. It is not just the Swiffer cloths, it is the way people use them—the design of the mop, the means of easily and single-handedly attaching and then disposing of the cloths, the color choice and lifestyle connection of the cloths to the busy person’s home life. All of this is supported by IP development and protection.
A recent example of a complete product system is the Mr. Clean AutoDry Car Wash. The innovative cleaning technology, a clear extension of the Mr. Clean brand, enables the car to be cleaned without a bucket and to air dry without leaving a single spot. It’s a phenomenal innovation in the drudgery and time to wash and then dry a car. The product uses a patented polymer to clean the car and then a micro shower of filtered water to, in combination with the polymer, enable rapid air drying without spots. The patent-pending filter removes the impurities that cause spots, and the system takes advantage of Pur filter technology (because P&G owns that brand as well). The product is a complete, patent-pending system that delivers the soap, water, and filtered water in an easy-to-use handheld sprayer, also patented, that attaches to a garden hose. A large button easily switches between the three settings. The sprayer is comfortable to hold, with a purple blue color tone and light lime green accents to lead the user to any aspect that requires interaction. A special filter is designed to easily fit into the unit, and a rubber stop with large pull tab accesses the special soap container. The filter and soap refill each last for about 10 washes, a setup that provides P&G access to a revenue stream analogous to that for disposable razor blades or swiffer cloths. The instructions complete the system with clear visual communication and engaging, humorous text. For example, in the Frequently Asked Questions section, also available on the Web site, after telling us that the product has a money-back guarantee for an entire year if an unsatisfactory spot is ever left on the car, the question “What will happen to my old bucket and drying towels?” is asked. The answer? “To be honest, the employment outlook for towels is grim…” Most important, the product really works!
As an alternative to making the car wash system, P&G could have sold separate components. It could have sold soap to be added to a bucket and a simple filter attachment to a hose. In that case, the margins for P&G would have been lower. In addition, the lack of a system would have led to a less complete or engaging experience of use, and the likelihood of consumer misuse would potentially have resulted in a poorly washed car and failure of the product.