A better understanding of nanotechnology, current trends, and the unique requirements of nanotechnology patents can help you understand the impact of this science on the modern world.

What Is Nanotechnology?

Modern nanotechnology is applied from either a top-down or bottom up approach. The former involves making structures smaller and smaller, and the latter involves assembling matter or building a mechanism from scratch on the nanoscale.

Though this technology is new, its applications are wide reaching. Nanoscience and nanotechnology have applications across all scientific fields and is currently impacting the following industries:

  • Health care: Nanoscale diagnostic tools can be used to treat patients at the cellular level. Moreover, nanomedicine is at the forefront of advances in the detection and treatment of cancer and heart disease.
  • Electronics: Microscopic electronic components allow for the development of more powerful and more compact hardware.
  • Aerospace: Nano materials can be used to create lighter, stronger, thinner materials for use in aircraft and spacecraft.
  • Conservation: Nanotechnology may advance the production and efficiency of solar energy panels and other alternative energies. Researchers are also experimenting with metal nanoparticles to make water potable in rural and underdeveloped parts of the world. Nanoparticles are also being used to convert the nitrogen oxide in concrete, making this material less harmful.

Patents in the Nanotechnology Industry

Filing patents related to nanotechnology isn't as straightforward as filing patents for other types of inventions. A few issues related to filing patents for nanotechnology are listed below.

  • Nanotechnology is an emerging field, and patents for broad processes or products would limit the advancement of innovation. Since this technology is still young, patents for similar general ideas can easily flood the marketplace.
  • Simply reproducing a product or process at the nanoscale will not distinguish the invention as “new," and therefore, will not be patentable.
  • If nanotechnology is applied just to make a product or process function at the nanoscale, the patent holder of the original invention may be entitled to royalties.

According to StatNano, about 50 percent of the patents filed are from U.S. companies. The other half mostly come from South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. As of 2016, the U.S. Patent and Trademarks office has published approximately 20,000 nanotechnology patents and the European Patent Office has published roughly 4,000.

Though filing a nanotechnology patent presents unique challenges and consideration, they do exist for inventions across dozens of industries. Nanotechnology inventors are racing to discover new products and processes and file patents for inventions in aerospace, medicine, energy, automotive, and virtually all other fields.

However, most patents filed are related to computers and electronics. Companies like IBM, Samsung, and Xerox have filed multiple patents for nanotechnology, as have educational institutions such as University of California and MIT. Companies in fields such as chemistry and biological sciences are also eager to bring nanotechnology products to market. Such inventions could revolutionize medicine and agriculture, promising huge financial rewards for these trailblazing researchers.

A study from the McDermott Will & Emery Nanotechnology Affinity Group has reported a few trends regarding nanotechnology patents:

  • The number of published nanotechnology patents worldwide has more than tripled since 2003.
  • The number of published nanotechnology patents in the U.S. exceeded 6,000 in 2013.
  • Nanotechnology innovation is surging; there was a 17 percent increase in the number of nanotechnology patents published in 2013 compared to the year before.

McDermott Will & Emery Nanotechnology Affinity Group also reported major growth in the following sectors since the early 2000s: computers and electronics, chemistry, biological sciences, materials, metrology and instrumentation, and energy.

These results reveal that nanotechnology innovation is a priority for many companies and that there is a serious commercial interest in improving virtually all processes and products that we use today. This study and other materials from the McDermott Will & Emery Nanotechnology Affinity Group are excellent resources for nanotechnology research and better understanding the legal matters related to this science.

Patent Offices Around the World

USPTO and EPO are two primary offices that process patents for nanotechnology inventions worldwide.

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