An Interesting History of Menstrual Patenting
The streak of innovation in the world of menstrual products have been nothing short of phenomenal but at the same time the stigma surrounding periods has somewhat side-lined the well-deserved recognition that some of the pioneering creators of menstrual products should have received. This compels us to discuss the amazing history of innovation that has been undertaken in this wondrous world of menstrual hygiene which has not only helped keep several bacteria borne diseases and infections at bay but also tremendously increased the female labour force participation by enabling women to live a quality of life.
The most commonly used menstrual products are sanitary napkins, tampons and menstrual cups. The structural design of a sanitary napkin consists of four layers. The bottom layer is an impermeable layer meant to prevent the escape of fluid. Above it is the absorbent layer made of the traditional wood pulp or rayon or the more recent Super absorbent polymers also known as SAPs which absorbs the fluid thus serving the most important purpose. Above it is the distribution integrant which seeks to distribute the fluid in a longitudinal pattern for effective absorption and topmost layer is a permeable layer which allows for the effortless passing of the fluid onto the absorbent. Prior to the coming of the present complex structure of a pad, women at the conclusion of the 19thcentury used to sew cotton or rags secured in a sack and pin it to the bottom of their undergarments.
The earliest examples of patenting of menstrual pads can be traced to the beginning of 20th century. One of the earliest examples would be “Menstrual pad with a sponge rubber plate” patented in Germany. Another would be absorbent pads patented in 1931 by Verbandstoff Fabrik Zuerich in Germany again. Sanitary towels patented in 1952 by Jacks Williard Grant in the US is another example. Each time the patent information would reveal the disadvantages of the then used pad design.
This was also the time around which the first menstrual cups were invented and patented. Approximately 20 menstrual products were patented at the beginning of 20th century. The structural design of a menstrual cup enables its convenient insertion and removal. The conical cup is pressed from the side to be comfortably placed inside the vagina. It consists of a receptacle to hold the shedding endometrium and a stem at the bottom to create a seal in the vaginal lining. Initially menstrual cups made of latex rubber were patented and used commercially but two factors led to their disintegration. Firstly, a shortage of rubber due to world war and secondly, the hesitancy surrounding a period product that was to be used so close up. Menstrual cups are extremely popular now. Leona Chalmers, a 20th century actress is often credited with the invention of first commercially sold menstrual cup. The latest most popular holders of patent for their design of the menstrual cup are inventors Andrew Ross Miller and Jane Hartman Adame for Flex Co. patented in 2018.
A tampon has a complicated design compared to other contemporary period products. The entire tampon is a blob of absorbent which is compressed in a spiral and declutters when it comes in contact with a fluid and is attached to string for convenient insertion, removal and binding. Tampons are as ancient as other period products. Paper, wool, vegetable fibre, papyrus and such were used to make tampons prior to 18th century up till the 20th century. Motivated by these historical innovations, a company by the name of Tampax patented its very first tampon in 1933 created by Dr. Earle Cleveland Hass. Later, popular brands like Tambrands and Johnson & Johnson came up with their own versions patented tampons and commercially sold them in the market.
Period patents are allowing for a more liberating environment in the world of menstrual products. The technologies which are continuously rolling out after rigorous testing is appealing to the executive and characteristic emancipation of women from the challenges that they face by virtue of their sex. Menstrual patenting is a lucrative venture in itself especially in developing countries like India where necessities like sanitary napkins are heavily taxed under GST. However, the historical context of innovation in menstrual products and their patenting delivers a pretext to the current evolution of the comfort that several women across the world experience by the use of cutting-edge period product innovation.
2nd year student, B.A. LL.B, Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar
The views are that of author’s own and not necessarily the views of IPTSE Academy. This blog is a platform for academic discussions and hence authors have been given flexibility to convey their thought process.