Nanotechnology has been defined in many different ways. We have all seen reference to the minute sizes of components used in this technology, such as one nanometre being one-eighty thousandth the diameter of a human hair. Indeed, on one level, almost any molecule could be considered as being nanoscale thereby incorporating the whole of chemistry and molecular biology as well as many electronic and electromechanical systems in the definition of nanotechnology.
Definition By Albert Franks
I think that the definition of Albert Franks, an early promoter of the industrial applications of nanotechnology, is still useful, particularly when considering patent aspects of nanotechnology. Albert Franks defined nanotechnology as “that area of science and technology where dimensions and tolerances in the range of 0.1 to 100 nm play a critical role”. Reference to the role, or the function, of the nanoscale components is a vital factor when considering the patentability of nanotechnology inventions.
Top Down And Bottom Up Approaches
The science of nanotechnology has two fundamentally different approaches, the so-called “top down” and “bottom up” approaches. The top-down approach refers to making nanoscale structures by machining and etching techniques, whereas bottom-up refers to building organic and inorganic structures atom-by-atom, or molecule-by-molecule. Presently, commercial applications of nanotechnology tend to favour the top-down approach although bottom-up approaches promise exciting future applications. Technologies which are using nanotechnology may be divided broadly into electronics, opto-electronics and magnetics applications; biomedical and pharmaceutical products; and energy, catalytic and structural applications.
Improved Properties Of The Nanoscale Components
The performance of materials used in such applications is driven by the often improved physical, chemical, biological and/or electronic properties of the nanoscale components. Specific examples showing the diversity of the nanotechnology include polishing supports, electroconductive coatings, magnetic fluid seals, magnetic recording media, multi-layer capacitors, optical fibres, phosphors, quantum dot devices, solar cells, anti-microbials, biodetection and labelling, drug delivery, biomagnetic separations, MRI contrast agents, orthopaedics, sunscreens, automotive catalysts, ceramic membranes, fuel cells, photocatalysts, propellants, batteries, structural ceramics, thermal spray coatings and scratch-resistant coatings. All of which involve potentially patentable inventions.
Protect Intellectual Property
In order for companies, be they bulk suppliers or high-tech start-up companies, to exploit these technologies and obtain a competitive advantage, it is vital that they protect the intellectual property arising from these advances in technology. To obtain patent protection for such inventions, it is important to identify some significant technical advantage associated with the nanoscale dimension.