Control and ownership of nanotechnology is a vital issue for all governments and civil society because nanomaterials and processes can be applied to virtually any manufactured good across all industry sectors. Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules, where size is measured in billionths of meters (one nanometer = one-billionth of a meter). Nanotech isn’t a single technology - but a range of technologies converging at the nanoscale - including biotechnology, genomics, neurosciences, robotics and information technologies.
Investment in Nanotechnology - How Many Companies Are Involved and How Much Money is Being Invested?
Worldwide, industry and governments invested more than $10 billion in nanotech R&D last year, with two-thirds coming from corporate and private funds. There are an estimated 1200 nanotech start-up companies, half of which are US-based. Virtually all Fortune 500 companies invest in nanotech R&D. A recent survey conducted by MIT’s ‘Technology Review’ predicts that products involving nanotech will account for over $100 billion by 2008; the US government predicts that the nanotech market will explode to $1 trillion by 2012.
The Importance of Patenting in Determining the Future of Nanotechnology
Intellectual property (IP) will play a major role in deciding who will capture nanotech’s trillion dollar market, who will have access to nanoscale technologies and at what price. At stake is control over innovations that span multiple industry sectors - from electronics, energy, mining and defense to new materials, pharmaceuticals and agriculture. As the ‘Wall Street Journal’ put it, “companies that hold pioneering patents could potentially put up tolls on entire industries.”
What Has Been Happening in the World of Nanotechnology Patenting?
Even industry insiders admit that current intellectual property trends related to nanotech are chaotic. Many broad patents on nanotech-related materials, tools and processes have been granted too early and too often. In 2002, the US-based industry trade group, Nanotechnology Business Alliance, was already warning in testimony before the US Congress, “…several early nanotech patents are given such broad coverage, the industry is potentially in real danger of experiencing unnecessary legal slowdowns.”
Could the Patenting Situation Hamper the Development of Nanotechnology?
More recently, nanotech industry analysts observe that the “euphoria for patenting” in the US combined with the US Patent & Trademark Office’s inability to handle a flood of patent applications has resulted in “the rejection of valid claims, the issuance of broad and over-lapping claims, and a fragmented and somewhat chaotic IP landscape.” The writers warn, “These IP roadblocks could severely retard development of nanotechnology.”
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