Femtech: The Rise of Female-Focused Innovation

Recently, ‘femtech’ – technology aimed primarily at women – has not only gained more attention and support, but has led to products and discoveries that are potentially life-saving, and life-changing, for many women. Femtech devices and applications help women to better understand and manage their health in the best way for them.

This article discusses examples of femtech innovations that have been patented over the past few years.

Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups may look like a new innovation, but they have been around since the 1800s. In 1867, a patent was granted in the USA for a “menstrual receiver”, which was formed from a rubber bag, a rubber ring and a wire (!) And was designed to be inserted into the vagina. A sponge was provided in the bag to absorb blood.

Given the recent increase in popularity of menstrual cups, the global market for menstrual cups is expected to grow to around USD2 billion by 2026. There are a number of reasons for this renewed interest:

  • It is estimated that people who menstruate use about 11,000 disposable menstrual products during their lifetime, many of which contain plastic and non-degradable materials, toxins, bleaches and dyes.
  • Alternative, non-disposable products are more sustainable than disposable products
  • Disposable menstrual products are expensive and unaffordable for many, leading to “period poverty” and consequently harmful physical and mental outcomes

European patent EP3558177B1 relates to an ergonomically-shaped menstrual cup, designed to be easier to insert and remove without spilling. The invention is based on the idea that a rotationally asymmetrical shape can make the cup fit better in the vagina. The central axis of the cup is also curved, making it possible to keep the level of the opening essentially horizontal while removing the cup, which reduces spillage. By placing and removing the cup more easily, and reducing spillage, it makes people who are menstruating more likely to feel comfortable using menstrual cups.

Typically, the outer surface of a menstrual cup forms a seal with the vaginal wall so that blood collects in the cup. However, this seal can cause pain and problems when the cup is removed. To address these problems, another patented menstrual cup (EP3324901B1) has a plurality of non-convex gripping surfaces distributed in an aximetric manner on the bottom of the cup, which is inflamed. The grip surfaces are configured to be pinched between fingers, reducing the pressure exerted by the outer surface of the cup on the vaginal wall. The cup is therefore easier and less painful to remove.

Menstruation and fertility detection

People who menstruate have traditionally kept diaries or made notes in their calendars to help them remember when their menstrual periods are expected to begin each month. This is often based on the assumption that an average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. However, normal, regular cycles can be between 21 and 40 days. Thus, the default assumption can make it difficult for people who are menstruating to know when they period due and or they period is late, or what is normal for they.

Better monitoring of menstruation can help people who are menstruating to prepare for the start of their period (eg by having menstrual products on hand), to determine if their periods are irregular (which may indicate a health problem or the onset of perimenopause), or missed (which may be an early sign of pregnancy). Better tracking and understanding of a menstrual cycle, and specifically ovulation, can also help people who are menstruating to achieve or avoid conception.

U.S. patent US10,765,409B2 relates to a computer-implemented method for modeling a menstrual cycle. The document describes the use of a portable device to obtain non-invasive heart rate and hemoglobin data, analyze the data to determine a health pattern for the user of the portable device, and correlate the health pattern with events of a menstrual period cycle to thereby model a menstrual cycle. The model can be used to predict or detect the onset and / or cessation of ovulation or menstruation. The model is user-specific, which enables better tracking than models based on averages.

Similarly, EP3125754B1 is related to an inconspicuous ovulation tracking system that uses heart rate variability characteristics to predict the likelihood of ovulation. This system may be easier to use than basal or core body temperature thermometers, which must be used daily for long periods of time to accurately predict fertile periods.

Menopause symptom relief

People who are menstruating do not know when their menopause will occur, but there are often symptoms that can help them guess that they are on their way to menopause. One symptom is irregular menstruation, which can help detect the above detection systems. Another is hot flashes, which can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, especially in the workplace. Night sweats are another symptom that can affect sleep, causing further problems.

There are a number of patented compositions for the treatment of hot flashes. For example, US8647665B2 relates to a method of treating hot flashes which involves the administration of formulations for the transdermal or transmucosal delivery of estrogen. The amount of estrogen in the formulation is the lowest effective dose that can be delivered daily while being effective in treating hot flashes. The formulations are also substantially free of long chain fatty alcohols, long chain fatty acids and long chain fatty esters, in order to reduce undesirable odor and irritation caused by such compounds.

Other innovations have been developed, including US8887328B2, which is related to an automated system for use while you sleep. The system automatically detects an impending hot flush, and prevents or controls the symptoms, which may include increased body temperature, sweating and / or chills. The system consists of a sleeping bag in which a user sleeps, sensors to obtain skin temperature, a fan and a control module to control the fan in response to changes in skin temperature. Similarly, US10179064B2 relates to a portable headband or cap that includes an EEG sensor for collecting data on the wearer’s brain activity, and a blanket that can be used to provide cool air in response to the EEG sensor data indicating that a person is a hot flush.

Both of these devices are only suitable for use at night, and are not necessarily comfortable or practical. Therefore, US10182937B2 provides a portable device for manipulating temperature using a thermoelectric material placed close to the skin. The device generates successive thermal pulses according to certain temperature profiles, which can give rise to an improved heating or cooling effect for the wearer.

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