Nanoscience and nanotechnology are the study and application of extremely small things and can be used across all the other science fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering . On its most basic level nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale to solve problems by creating new products with fundamentally new properties or functions. For example, researchers have observed a near tripling of the efficiency for a photovoltaic produced with sandwiched, nano-thick layers of metal and plastic.
Nanotech innovations run the gamut from energy, medicine, aerospace, and beyond building on fundamental science at the nanoscale. For example, nanotech innovations in electron microscopy enable scientist to study interactions between individual atoms and molecules, which may have a far-reaching impact in chemical catalysis, personalized medicine, and materials engineering. Also, understanding how light and sound interact with nanoparticles is fueling research in stealth technology and invisibility cloaks.
These innovative technologies bring new economic opportunities. According to a recent GAO report, many experts in industry, government, and academia anticipate that nanotech innovations could match or exceed the economic and societal impacts of the digital revolution. The nanomedicine market, which has been estimated at about 20 percent to about 40 percent of the overall nanotechnology market, was valued at 78.54 billion USD in 2012 and is expected to grow to 117.60 billion USD by 2019, according to a new market report published by Transparency Market Research “Nanomedicine Market (Neurology, Cardiovascular, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-infective, and Oncology Applications)–Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2013 – 2019.” The nanomedicine market is fueled by developments in the detection and treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Diverse social benefits are also facilitated by nanotech innovations. For example, there are several pilot projects using metal nanoparticles to remove biological and chemical contaminants from water in rural and underdeveloped regions of the world. In another example, concrete is being implemented with nanoparticles that convert nitrogen oxide, a common air pollutant, into less harmful nitrate ions.
As part of our keen interest in nanotechnology, each year the McDermott Will & Emery Nanotechnology Affinity Group conducts a survey of the nanotechnology patent literature to identify trends within nanotechnology innovation relating to regional leaders, technical developments, and sector performance. Overall, the total volume of published nanotechnology patent literature increased 5 percent in 2013 and has more than tripled since 2003. The number of U.S. patents issued in nanotechnology was more than 6,000 in 2013, a 17 percent increase over 2012. Given the novelty and nonobviousness requirements of patenting, a 17 percent increase in issued U.S. patents indicates that nanotech innovation is growing rapidly.
As a measure of regional innovation and potential economic impact, the location of the assignees of nanotechnology patent literature was analyzed by region and country. The assignee location may be a metric useful in forecasting where commercialization and economic impact will be greatest. In a regional analysis, three epicenters for nanotechnology innovation emerge– North America, Eastern Asia, and Europe each with about 57 percent, 28 percent, and 20 percent, respectively, of the patent literature being assigned to entities residing therein. For individual countries, the U.S. maintains its dominance observed in previous years with about 54 percent of the nanotechnology patent literature published in 2013 being assigned to U.S.-based entities, followed by South Korea at 8.3 percent, Japan at 8.0 percent, and Germany at 5.8 percent.
Six sectors were concentrated on for a sector analysis of nanotechnology innovation through patenting trends–(1) Computers and Electronics, (2) Chemistry, (3) Biological Sciences, including Medicine and Agriculture, (4) Materials, (5) Metrology and Instrumentation, and (6) Energy Generation, Transmission, and Storage. Similar to the trends of nanotechnology patent literature as a whole, each of the technology types has experienced significant growth since the early 2000s. Of the six sectors analyzed, the Energy sector exhibited the greatest growth, 8 percent over the previous year. While it is the smallest of the sectors investigated, innovation in the Energy sector appears to have robust, steady growth. This may indicate a sustained commercial interest in nano-energy innovation. Accordingly, the Energy sector was analyzed more closely in the report.
A closer analysis of the Energy sector revealed three prominent subjects of research and development: Energy Storage, Photovoltaics, and Petroleum Exploration. A review of the keywords most prevalent in the 2013 Energy Storage area of nanotechnology patent literature reveals that lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells, and specifically the electrodes thereof, are of significant interest. For the Petroleum Exploration, interest is highest for nanoparticle additives for the fluids used in petroleum exploration and production that are designed to increase production efficiency and decrease remedial operations. Organic solar cells that incorporate nanotechnology emerged as a leading topic in Photovoltaics.
As nanotechnology innovation continues to advance, patent literature provides a unique perspective on its growth and commercialization. The annual nanotech patent survey produced by the McDermott Will & Emery Nanotechnology Affinity Group is one of many tools used to assist clients in navigating legal issues related to nanotechnology.
About the Authors
Iona Kaiser is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s Houston office. She focuses her practice on patent litigation and transactional patent matters, including prosecution, counseling and licensing. Iona is experienced in all aspects of patent-related intellectual property law, with an emphasis on litigation and chemical patent prosecution. She has worked extensively on patent disputes as well as disputes involving business interruption at industrial facilities.
Carey C. Jordan is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s Houston office. Carey focuses her practice on patent prosecution, transactions and strategic portfolio management in the chemical, materials science, energy and alternative energy sectors. Carey’s practice encompasses the development of developing global intellectual property portfolios for both start-up and established companies, and she has considerable involvement in licensing, agreements, mergers and acquisitions. Carey also handles and develops strategic approaches for complex prosecution matters including post-grant review proceedings, reexaminations, reissues, supplemental examinations, etc.
Valerie C. Moore, Ph.D., is a registered patent agent in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s Houston office. Valerie is experienced in the areas of nanotechnology, materials engineering, supramolecular science, analytical methods, surface science, chemistry and biotechnology. Valerie has previously worked in research and administration for Rice University, in the Texas Medical Center and with NASA Johnson Space Center.
About the Nanotechnology Affinity Group
The McDermott Will & Emery Nanotechnology Affinity Group is an internal grouping of legal professionals interested in the nanotechnology innovation and the related legal issues including protecting intellectual property, assessing intellectual property value, litigation, regulatory compliance with the EPA and FDA, mergers and acquisitions, import/export controls of nanomaterials, private equity, and government contracting. The Nanotechnology Affinity Group includes lawyers and legal professionals with diverse backgrounds including several MS and PhD scientists and engineers with expertise in nanotechnology. McDermott is uniquely suited to assist clients with all nanotechnology matters because we understand the core technology and how it integrates into overall business objectives.