Pumpkins are a key tradition for many around Halloween; their glowing faces seen in windows and doorways all over the world. However, once we’ve hollowed out our spooky canvases most people are left wondering if there is a way to utilize the rest of their pumpkin.
Using patent data as our guide, we investigate how pumpkins are being used outside of this holiday tradition and what the future could hold for this seasonal fruit.
History of the Jack-o-lantern
Pumpkins have long been seen as a symbol of Halloween, due in large part to their popularity for being carved into decorative lanterns. This practice originates back to an Irish myth about “Stingy Jack”; a man doomed to roam the earth with only a hollowed-out turnip containing a flame to light his path. The use of vegetables such as turnips were standard practice for a long time, until Europeans emigrating to “the New World” found the native pumpkin to be readily available and have a much larger and easier to carve surface than turnips, thus launching their iconic status as a Halloween staple.
Patenting the pumpkin
Pumpkin related patents can, for the broad majority, be broken down into three headings:
- Using the pumpkin
- Growing the pumpkin
- Processing the pumpkin
By extracting the data subset surrounding using a pumpkin, we can gather insights into what this technology area holds and highlight where it could be heading.
As seen in Fig.1, below, China holds a significant majority when it comes to publishing patents related to the use of pumpkins.
This may be related to the high percentage of pumpkins produced in China, accounting for 27% of the total worldwide pumpkin production in 2020.
They are however, a versatile fruit that can be grown almost anywhere; a fact that may be reflected by the wide spread of publication countries.
The Pumpkin King
With China holding a commanding majority of publications, it is little surprise to see Chinese based companies holding a key stake in these patents.
However, even though the dataset contained over 2000 publication families, the leading assignee is only responsible for 30 patent families, indicating a varied market of which no one entity has commanding control.
A sign of the pumpkin’s versatility, these key players come from a range of backgrounds; predominantly, Food production, Research Institutions and Farming.
From the below heatmaps we can start to gather an idea of the main uses of pumpkins. These charts allow for visualizing trend cycles and identifying potential gaps in the market.
The number of publications in all fields appear to reach a peak from 2014 to 2019. Without the impact of Covid it is impossible to know if this rise in publications would have continued at the same rate had it remained unaffected.
Unsurprisingly, the main classifications utilized fall under either A23L019/00 – Products from Fruits or Vegetables, and A23L033/00 – Modifying Nutritive Qualities of Foods.
Significantly, A23L033/00 has been used continually throughout the timeframe identified, indicating that pumpkins have long been utilized for their health properties. The identified health benefits may correlate with its popularity within the Chinese market, where natural ingredients are often widely utilized in medicines.
Asides from the above classifications there is also a range of other uses identified; A23G003 – Confectionary, A21D013 – Bakery and A61K0036 – Medical Preparations, being the key examples.
As well as looking at the assigned classifications, we can compare the publication history of the key concepts these patents relate to.
Using this heatmap we can identify key trends that are appearing within the patent literature.
With the exception of pumpkin pulp and pumpkin juice, which appear to have relatively consistent publication activity, the remaining concepts have all experienced small cycles of increased usage, typically peaking around 2014 to 2019.
Here we can highlight both the use of Cobalt and Vitamin B12 synthesis as key growth areas from the last decade.
Antioxidant Carotene has also been a key growth area; however, this appears to have ceased to be of interest in the field, being present solely in 2011 and 2014-17.
Outside of the areas highlighted above there were some key patents that could hint towards where the future of pumpkin usage may lie:
CN105994477A relates to “Pumpkin-cake raw materials used for 3D printing” leading to the creation of aesthetically pleasing pumpkin cakes that can be shaped by 3d printing.
KR20080053260A is concerned with the production of Biofuel from pumpkins, utilising their flesh and epicarp to produce bioethanol that is necessary for the esterification of bio-diesel oil.
As highlighted through this brief patent insights, pumpkins are an incredibly versatile fruit that hold the potential for being much more than a seasonal decoration. And who knows, if their usage becomes more urgently required in key commercial areas such as biofuel, we just might find ourselves once again changing what we carve at Halloween.
Article by Daniel Di Francesco, an IP Manager at Patent Seekers. He is an expert in undertaking FTO, Patentability and Invalidity searches, covering all types of subject matter with specialism in the chemical field.
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