Friday, April 12, 2019

Patent pending?

Schwan's Product Innovation & Development employees Wayne Pafko,
left, Gaelle Denais-Kruse and Robert Mathiowetz were involved with
the development of an invention that recently received a patent. The device
helps make pizza dough seem as if it were made by a chef's hand.

Not anymore, team sees invention approved after four long years

April 11, 2019 — Innovation can be the driving force behind a company’s growth strategy. In fact, it’s so important that many businesses invest millions every year into developing products and services that better meet consumer needs or creating new and more efficient processes that will provide a competitive advantage.

Companies invest so heavily into innovation that they often seek U.S. patents to protect the competitive advantage they gain from their intellectual property.

Schwan’s Company is no different. Since 1986, the company has been granted 25 patents. The patents range from cover shells for pies to a dough-support system that eliminates the need for a baking pan.

The most recent patent was issued to Schwan’s this summer for an invention that convincingly mimics forming dough by hand for pizza crusts.

“It was not easy to do this,” said Schwan’s Principal Process Engineer Wayne Pafko, one of six employees who worked on the patented project through the years. “When you watch a chef create a pizza crust by hand, there’s a lot of dough stretching to form the shape, and you get a lot of finger-sized impressions. We have been able to recreate that appearance and texture on the production line.”

The project first began in 2010 and after hundreds of hours of work a patent was applied for in 2014. The invention includes a press, which the team calls a “knuckle docker,” that imprints dough just like a person’s fingers or knuckles would in a restaurant. Further down the process, the invention includes a press and die that cuts the crust shape from sheeted dough, forming a thin center and thicker edge.

Three current employees who were instrumental in developing the item, Principal Process Engineer Gaelle Denais-Kruse, Senior Food Scientist Robert Mathiowetz and Wayne, said many hours and variations were tried before getting the design to a point where they were ready to patent it.

The team knew they were ready when it became extremely difficult for dough experts to know the difference between a handmade crust and one formed by the team’s invention.

“The process just worked so well to make a crust that looks handmade,” Robert said. “You really cannot tell the difference between the crusts when you set them side by side.”

Schwan’s has many engineers and scientists working on innovative ideas all of the time, but many factors go into whether the company moves forward with a patent.

“When we look at applying for a patent, we consider whether the idea would be useful strategically to Schwan’s either now or in the near future,” said Schwan's Senior Director of Ingredient Technology and Open Innovation Bonnie Hinze. “Dough technology is obviously a key strategic area for Schwan’s, so we spend a lot o time working to innovate in this area.”

The team has been involved in developing many other innovations for the company when it comes to pizza dough. Wayne was involved in the patent for the design shape of Freschetta® Brick Oven pizza. In recent years, Wayne said he has been more focused in desserts and ice cream.

Robert and Gaelle also have been instrumental in past pizza dough innovations, but this is their first granted patent. The duo said they were surprised at how lengthy the process can be.

“It’s definitely a marathon,” Gaelle said.

The process is lengthy because those reviewing patents study whether a patent is truly a new idea, whether it’s useful and whether the invention would be considered obvious to someone who’s skilled in that particular area of expertise.

“Whether you decide to go through that process really depends on the amount of time, money and effort that you put into it,” Robert said. “If it’s considerable, you want to protect it.”

Popular Posts