WASHINGTON More than 3,800 U.S. nanotechnology patents have been issued as of late March and another 1,777 patents applications are pending, according to a study released Thursday (April 21) that concludes a "gold-rush mentality" grips nanotechnology research.
The new report by Lux Research found that nanotechnology researchers around the world are steadily filing patents in hopes of creating "toll booths" for future product development. The study identified building block nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and quantum dots as areas of particular focus.
"Because so many patents have been filed relating to nanomaterials, and so many of them seem to overlap, companies that want to use these building blocks in products will be forced to license patents from many different sources in order to do so," Matthew Nordan, vice president of research at Lux, said in a statement releasing the report, "The Nanotech Intellectual Property Landscape."
The study focused on five nanomaterials: carbon nanotubes, dendrimers, fullerenes, nanowires and quantum dots.
While fullerenes and nanowires are relatively "unentangled" with overlapping patent claims, the other categories are quickly attracting patent applications. For example, the study found that a large number of patent claims for dendrimers have been assigned to a single start-up, Dendritic Nanotechnologies (Mount Pleasant, Mich.), which is backed by Dow Chemicals Co.
Among the report's other findings were that quantum dot patent claims tend to cover the materials themselves rather than specific applications and that the patent situation for using carbon nanotubes in electronics looks "messy."
Nevertheless, the study's authors asserted that "the common assumption that carbon nanotube patents are both numerous and overlapping across all important application categories is incorrect."
Intellectual property experts said the study's conclusions mean some nanotech patent litagation is inevitable. "Those who have their own patents will have some leverage with which to avoid a self-destructive IP war," said Stephen Maebius, a nanotechnology specialist with the New York law firm Foley & Lardner, which worked with Lux Research on the study. "The stage is set for a wave of cross-licensing agreements by start-ups, and bundles of IP for specific applications licensed by groups of large corporations."