Project Description

Ask the expert:
What’s next in packaging?

Most people give little thought to the packaging surrounding a new product, but Bob Kimmel is not most people. His early interest in packaging began in the home-basement lab of his MIT-trained chemical engineer father. After completing his own extensive education in material engineering, also from MIT, Bob initially focused on polymer and fiber physics but soon expanded into all types of packaging and package design.
His 30-year career in the industry and 20 years teaching packaging science gives him an extraordinary view of the evolution of packaging and the increasing legal complications these advancements can produce. Bob has served as an expert witness in numerous cases, approximately allocated as 75% patent litigation matters and 25% product liability/breach of contract cases.
As a thought leader in all aspects of packaging and package design, we asked Bob to provide insight into the future of packaging. Here are some of his observations.

The evolution in packaging is ultimately aimed at helping consumers.

For example, current trends include:
  • More built-in pouring spouts and other measuring aids
  • Advanced printing techniques for more beautiful designs, including holographic images
  • Redesigns to keep stronger flavors fresh and prevent unwanted migration
  • Innovative use of existing and new materials for recycling multi-layer plastic laminates
However, the future of packaging reaches far beyond these trends to include continued growth in the world of smart packaging, including both active and intelligent packaging. These innovations promise to increase product safety, reduce food waste, improve logistics, and even directly communicate to consumers.

What is active packaging?

It is packaging that can interact with its contents to improve shelf life—and it is already in wide use. For example, active packaging that modifies the atmosphere within a package maintains freshness, controls the rate of ripening, and improves the appearance of food products. That technology is evolving into more fruits and vegetables being packaged with special films to control respiration and greatly lengthen shelf life. Currently, moisture and oxygen absorbers are also widely used, but we will see new ways of maintaining and lengthening safe food storage using innovative chemistry incorporated directly into the packaging materials.

What is intelligent packaging?

Say goodbye to the hodgepodge of time-based solutions, variously labeled as “sell by,” “best by,” and “use by.” Instead, the industry is starting to use freshness indicators that not only indicate the quality of the product but let the seller and consumer know if abusive temperature changes occurred during shipping or handling.
Intelligent packaging innovations will also increasingly enable new logistical solutions for tracking the entire supply chain, helping reduce costs and waste, and enabling “no check-out” stores. Intelligent packaging even offers additional marketing opportunities for manufacturers through interaction with consumers’ smart phones—going beyond bar codes to packages that talk directly to consumers or direct them to websites.

Naturally, the law surrounding packaging is also evolving

Bob recently lent his expert advice to a patent dispute involving bottled flavoring packaging. Bob helped prove that the disputed patent was invalid because it was no more than a combination of other existing patents. This accomplishment required successfully getting information from an online database accepted as prior art by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) even though the information had never been physically printed.
“We were able to prove the plaintiff and the industry had access to this database of technical and marketing information, and we were able to prove the technology the plaintiff company was using was well known prior to their patent,” he said.
This example of the moving beyond the PTAB’s traditional print requirement is an example of one step toward the future for both patent and product liability/breach of contract disputes as the packaging industry continues to advance and packaging increasingly becomes an integral part of the overall product experience.
Bob Kimmel is frequently called to testify as an expert witness in packaging, polymer science, and plastics patent infringement, trade dress, and breach of contract cases. He holds numerous patents, has multiple materials engineering degrees, as well as his Doctor of Science (ScD), from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For the past 20 years, he has taught at Clemson University.