Patents: those details
that make the difference

From the first rubber football to a self-sealing tyre: see how Pirelli’s patenting procedure works

Home life Patents: those details
that make the difference
Patents: those details
that make the difference

From a special fabric covering for bicycle tyres, to the first Pirelli “Ercole” brand car tyre, via waterproof clothing, overcoats, rubber footwear, footballs, famous toys, such as the cat Meo Romeo and Zizì the monkey, right through to the latest and most innovative tyres (see Pirelli patents: a story of invention and creativity). Items that are very different from one another, but which have one thing in common: thay are all patents filed by Pirelli over the years, innovative technical solutions, which define the history of the firm. A tradition that is continually being renewed, and which, thanks to the commitment of the talented individuals working in the company, has enabled it to file an average of approx. 40 new patent applications every year.   
Creating an innovative idea “on paper” is difficult enough in itself, but transforming it into a physical product, that is safe and functional, is even more demanding. And above all, if creating a product that works perfectly means ensuring that – in certain situations – it does not work at all. 

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Let’s take the example of the creation of “self-sealing” technology, a solution what enables a tyre to ‘self-repair’ if it is punctured. When Pirelli engineers developed and then patented a tyre with a self-sealing system they ensured that the tyre would indeed repair itself in the event of a puncture but, at the same time, they also understood, quite differently from the “normal way of thinking” which would say that “any kind of hole will be sealed”, this self-sealing system should not operate if the puncture is too large. In fact, too large a hole would be in danger of causing damage to the structure of the tyre: in this case, sealing it would create more problems than advantages. And so – in the interests of safety – the Pirelli self-sealing system provides for “selective sealing”, i.e. it allows the tyre to deflate if there is a sizable puncture.

The same logic was applied in the creation of Formula 1® tyres, capable of providing excellent performance, but only for a limited number of circuits of the track, which obliged the teams to work out a complete race strategy, making the event even more exciting.

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In 2015, according to EPO, the European Patent Office, Pirelli gained fourth place in the Italian classification for the number of European patent applications published, with a total of 39 applications. But for a multinational like Pirelli, one should use the broader concept of “patent families”. 

As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a “world” patent: for every patented solution it is necessary to make patent applications in the Countries of interest to the company. The totality of the patents registered for the same technical solution in different Countries form a “patent family”. And each patent in a family gives protection to the patented solution only and exclusively in the actual Country where it is filed. 

The selection of  Countries in which the patents within a family should be filed is determined principally by two factors: in the one hand, the interest of the company in obtaining protection in certain geographical areas; on the other hand, the necessity of conserving  financial  resources.  In the context of filing a patent, each of them entails a series of costs, and once the patent has been granted, these will include the cost of maintaining it for the required time, up to a maximum of 20 years (25 years in the case of design patents within the European Union).

As things stand, in 2016 Pirelli has approx. 600 active patent families throughout the world, corresponding to some 5,000 patents in total. Out of these there are roughly 1,000 patents world-wide, which are under examination or waiting to be granted. The approval process is not very fast. The patent offices in the different Countries have the task, not always easy, of establishing whether the patent application submitted makes protection claims for a solution that really is new. In this case, “new” means “universally new”, or that it has not been described, designed or communicated (even verbally) in any part of the world before the patent application was submitted. 

In Pirelli, the process leading up to a patent application has its roots in the Research and Development laboratories. And it is here, especially in the headquarters at Milano Bicocca, that almost 100% of Pirelli patents originate. Whether designing a new tread profile, developing a new compound, studying innovative structures, or ensuring continuous process improvement, this all gives life to patentable inventions. 

Throughout Pirelli’s history, there have been many inventors who have contributed over the years to the continuity of innovation within the firm, designing new solutions, optimising processes and improving quality. From among these we should mention Renato Caretta, a famous Pirelli engineer who, in the course of his long career, made contributions to some 100 patent families, many of which refer to the MIRS process, the revolutionary, advanced technology system for tyre production devised by Pirelli. Amongst the engineers currently active in Pirelli, Maurizio Boiocchi, General Manager Technology, is the inventor for approx. 30 patent families, whilst Gianni Mancini, Head of Processes and Equipment, is responsible for approx. 70.

A further demonstration showing how the firm regards patents as a fundamental part of the company’s assets is shown every year through the “Pirelli Invention Prize” (“Premio alle Invenzioni Pirelli”), established some 20 years ago, in recognition of the men and women in the firm who have elaborated solutions leading to the application for or grant of patents. They are presented by Pirelli’s Managing Director, Marco Tronchetti Provera, with the “Silver Medal”, for all patent applications filed, or with the “Gold Medal” for patents granted, and which  have demonstrated a competitive advantage for the company.

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