Carbon Nanotubes - an Overview of Patenting and IP Rights with Special Focus on the USA

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Does a ‘Patent Thicket’ Exist for Carbon Nanotubes?

Patenting Carbon Nanotubes in the USA - What a Recent Report Concluded


Although nanotech is often described as a nascent industry - patent offices have already granted hundreds of patents on carbon nanotubes. As a result, in those countries where the patents are recognized, it is virtually impossible to make or use materials, devices and systems based on carbon nanotubes without infringing a swarm of existing patents - whose claims are often broad, overlapping and conflicting.

Does a ‘Patent Thicket’ Exist for Carbon Nanotubes?

The quagmire is known as a “patent thicket” and it means that any researchers hoping to develop new technology based on carbon nanotubes must first negotiate licenses from multiple patent owners. (And there’s no guarantee that a company will agree to license its patent - especially if it aims to curb competition.) 

Patenting Carbon Nanotubes in the USA - What a Recent Report Concluded

A 2004 review of US patents related to carbon nanotubes conducted by John Miller et al uncovered 306 patents on nanotubes and the methods used to produce them. The survey identified at least 10 patents claiming nanotubes, 38 patents on nanotube production methods, 20 patents on general-purpose tools and processes, and over 238 patents on various applications of carbon nanotubes. The authors point out that, even if a company developed a revolutionary new product or process involving carbon nanotubes, the new innovation would undoubtedly infringe existing patents. The authors conclude, “As nanotechnology continues to develop, the minefields of patents will become more difficult to traverse.”    

Note: A complete set of references can be found by referring to the original document.  

Source: ETC Group report entitled ‘Nanotech’s “Second Nature” Patents: Implications for the Global South’, April/May 2005.

For more information on this source please visit the ETC Group.

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