Inventor throws textbooks out

The chemist Regine Schneider found it troubling that many soaps contain palm oil. So she looked around for a substitute. During a trip to the French Alps, she decided to found a soap-making company herself. There followed several months of intensive laboratory work. She threw all the textbooks out of the window – and it paid off. She now has a patent that she can defend in court.

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[Translate to English:] «Aufgeben war für mich nie ein Thema»: Erfindern Regine Schneider mit einem ihrer Seifenprodukte ohne Palmöl. Copyright: IGE

The world is full of cleaning agents, which come in handy when we’re washing our hands, having a shower or doing our laundry. Every soap needs an oil component, according to the standard rules of chemistry. For a long time, manufacturers’ first choice was mineral oil. Since the 1970s, they’ve used palm oil.


As a trained chemist, Schneider wanted to change that. She gave up her job in the chemical industry, where she had spent more than ten years working on ingredients for washing and cleaning products. “I visited a vast oil palm plantation and saw for myself how many acres of land the huge demand for palm oil takes up. Where there was once rainforest, there is now one palm after another,” recalls Regine Schneider.


That got her thinking. She couldn’t just turn a blind eye. “I felt the need to do something,” she says. That was in 2011. In the same year, she founded the Swiss company Good Soaps. Its aim is to produce cleaning products that are based entirely on plants but not on palm oil. “There are a lot of reasons not to use palm oil. The plantations damage biodiversity and the climate because cultivating oil palm trees releases a great deal of CO2. Logging also destroys the rainforests, which act as natural air conditioners and CO2 reservoirs. The amount of palm oil used in industry is huge. We need to break this chain,” explains the inventor.


Lateral thinking wins the day

In her laboratory experiments, she opted for domestic plants and thus ran counter to all textbooks and the approach taken for standard products. Plant-based washing and cleaning products without palm oil? Surely that’s not possible. But Regine Schneider has proven that it is. “I started at square one. Fortunately I had a sparring partner to exchange ideas with.” She persevered and was rewarded by her first successes. “I was motivated by the idea that I could play a key role in protecting the climate.” It took around two years from the founding of her company until its first products appeared on the market. According to Schneider, European vegetable oils are just as good as palm or mineral oil, and they don’t have to travel halfway across the world.


The patent

Regine Schneider patented her invention. “I had created something that was fundamentally new and that broke away from standard approaches. I patented it to record and protect my knowledge,” says the start-up founder. She explains that patents are particularly important for young companies, because they protect their inventions and also attract attention. “You put a lot of effort into your invention, so you want to get a result at the end of the day.” After all, her competitors were watching very closely.


She opted for an Assisted Patent Search at the IPI before applying for the patent so that she could be sure that her invention was new. The search through the databases with a patent expert was also inspiring. “I learned a lot and I’ve since tried out some other options.”


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Fighting over a patent

One competitor did indeed have a very close look at Regine Schneider’s invention. They opposed the patent, submitting several objections during the examination procedure alone. “They put a huge amount of pressure on me,” recalls the inventor. The dispute culminated in a court case, with the plaintiff claiming that the invention wasn’t Schneider’s. The lawsuit didn’t just make media headlines but also ended up in the Federal Patent Court. The court ruled entirely in Schneider’s favour and awarded her an impressive amount of compensation.

“They tried everything in their power to get their hands on the invention themselves. The case shows that justice prevails and that we have a strong patent. The Swiss Federal Patent Court’s ruling also doubled the patent’s value,” explains the delighted inventor. Her firm can now focus fully on its operations and on further developing its climate-protecting technology.


Schneider hasn’t ever regretted setting up her own business. “Founding a company was very daunting. It was a step outside of my comfort zone. There have of course been difficult times. But I never once considered giving up.” She’s been confirmed in her work by environmental awards, positive feedback from clients and substantial media interest.


Tip: Do you have an idea or an invention? Are you wondering if you can patent it? Find out with an Assisted Patent Search.

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