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Purell© – An Invention Born Of the 1973 Oil Embargo That Is Flying Off The Shelves Today

April 01, 2020

Posted in Uncategorized

Invention Sample — Howell, MI — The Patent Baron

Some inventions take a while to gain traction– a topical example is the hand sanitizer Purell©. Purell is a product of GOJO Industries©, founded in 1946 by Goldie and Jerome Lippman in Akron, OH. They used at least some of their names to arrive that the company name GOJO. By creating a word mark they also created a strong trademark.

GOJO’s first product was one I am intimately familiar with – GOJO Hand Cleaner©. I have a couple of these bottles in my garage and have used GOJO Hand Cleaner for many years when working on vehicles and other household projects. Of course, GOJO Hand Cleaner is a petroleum-based product intended to remove grease and dirt, not an isopropyl-alcohol-based hand sanitizer like Purell.

Mr. Lippman designed, developed, and patented a number of wall-mounted dispensers for GOJO Hand Cleaner, and he can be argued as the father of the wall-mounted soap dispenser.

How does this figure into Purell? In the early 1970s, an oil embargo caused the price of oil, the main ingredient in GOJO Hand Cleaner, to rise overnight. As the old expression goes, “necessity is the mother of invention” and to combat high petroleum prices, GOJO sought cheaper alternatives.

One of those alternatives was isopropyl alcohol. Using isopropyl alcohol as a base, and adding other components such as antimicrobials and other chemicals, Purell was born. Purell was gentler on the skin the scouring GOJO Hand Cleaner and had the added bonus of sanitizing.

One of the novel elements of Purell is its thickness. Isopropyl alcohol, being a liquid and not a creamy hand cleaner like GOJO Hand Cleaner, is difficult to use. The rate of evaporation and inability to keep an amount of it in the palms of your hands was a problem that GOJO sought to solve.

The solution was formulating Purell into a gel form. The satisfying staying power of Purell is provided by thickeners called acrylates. Without diving deep into chemistry, the bottom line is that Purell stayed on your hands and simply didn’t run off and evaporate as isopropyl alcohol does. While both products existed previously no one had though to combine them to create the Purell hand sanitizing gel. Those of us in the patent trade often refer to this as “unexpected results”.

GOJO first trademarked Purell in 1992 and have filed for numerous other trademarks to protect their strong brand. While there are many hand sanitizers on the market, GOJO’s Purell has been so successful that one could argue that the brand is in danger of being genericized – when the brand becomes synonymous with an entire type of product. GOJO may consider working toward preventing the overuse of the Purell brand. The price of success can be eternal vigilance.

Lessons to be learned: Developing a product today can pay dividends in the future; don’t give up if a product doesn’t take off right away – persistence pays off; protect your brand as it becomes market- dominant.

Sources: www.gojo.comwww.vanityfair.coom

© J. Baron Lesperance 2020

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