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News : International Last Updated: Dec 19th, 2007 - 13:17:15

Europe in danger of missing the boat on commercial returns in Nanotechnology - US and Far East lead in patenting nanotechnology applications
By Finfacts Team
May 9, 2006, 07:28

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  • New report warns that high public expenditure in Europe is not being converted into commercial prospects due to a lack of patent applications
  • Far Eastern electronics giants dominate nanotech patent landscape 
  • Energy giants in danger of losing out as energy goes nano
  • Japanese car manufacturers dominate hybrid motor technology 

Dr. Rhian Granleese
The rapid growth of patent applications in three key areas of nanotechnology in the Far East and US is not being matched in Europe, in spite of substantial investment in research, according to a report by Marks & Clerk, one of the world’s leading firms of patent and trade mark attorneys.  In its inaugural Nanotechnology Report, Marks & Clerk explores worldwide patent activity in the fields of nanoelectronics, nanoenergy and nanotechnology in health and personal care. 
The Marks & Clerk report finds a dramatic increase in the filing of patent applications for nanotechnology across the globe, highlighting its growing commercial importance.  Globally, annual priority filings nearly trebled between 2000 and 2003 in all three fields covered by the report.1
However, companies and institutions in Europe are filing far fewer patent applications than their US and Far Eastern counterparts.  The report finds that in nanoelectronics, amongst the top thirty players accounting for about half the total number of patent families, only 8 per cent of families were filed by European applicants, compared with 24 per cent by US applicants and 51 per cent by Japanese applicants. 
A similar picture emerges in nanoenergy.  Amongst priority filings, usually an indication of the country of origin of the applicant, there were 398 applications for nanoenergy patents in the USA from 2000-2005, although this figure is affected by a number of non-US applicants filing priority applications in the US due to the importance of the US market. Over the same period there were 278 priority filings in Japan, 77 in South Korea and 43 in China.  By comparison, Europe is poorly represented in the nanoenergy league, with the highest number of first filings from Germany (35), ahead of the UK (18) and France (10), with a further 28 priority filings at the European Patent Office.  The total number of priority filings in Europe was just 40 per cent of those in Japan and under 30 per cent of those in the USA. 
The comparative dearth of patent applications for nanotechnology in Europe comes despite record levels of investment in research, particularly from public funds.  According to the Nanosciences and Nanotechnology Unit of the European Commission, although the total R&D spend for 2004 in nanotechnology in Europe of $2.4 billion was behind that of the USA at $3.6 billion and Japan at $2.8 billion, funding from the European public purse of $1.7 billion exceeded that in the USA ($1.5 billion) and Japan ($0.9 billion). 2
Dr. Rhian Granleese, partner at Marks & Clerk and co-author of the report, comments:

“Whilst it is good to see significant public investment in Europe, the low number of patents filed shown by our report gives serious cause for concern.  Some estimates predict that the value of the nanotechnology-related product and services market will exceed $1 trillion by 2015, but European institutions and companies may be foregoing their claim to commercial returns by not filing patents on their research. 
“It is possible that a number of institutions and companies are not recognising the potential value of their research.  Some of the patents filed now will be deemed worthless, but others will prove to be of enormous value.  Although, the European Commission and the EU-funded NanoRoadMap project have demonstrated awareness of the problem, they have yet to yield results." 
The Far East’s dominance of electronics extends into the nano era

The report finds that the electronics giants from the Far East are dominating research and development in nanoelectronics.  Of the 30 leading applicants, 18 are based in the Far East, 10 in the USA and just 2, Philips and Infineon Technologies, in Europe.
Table 1: Key Players in Nanoelectronics

Nanoelectronics Applicants

Number of patent families



Samsung (includes Samsung Electronics & Samsung SDI)


Japan Science and Technology Corp




Infineon Technologies AG


Sony Corp




Industrial Technology Research Institute






Rhian Granleese comments:

“The commercial potential for nanoelectronics is huge.  Many of the big players in the electronics arena are already seeking ways to exploit the advantages that nanoscale devices could provide.
"We predict that activity in the Far East will remain at high levels, and is likely to increase as nanoelectronics moves from its current research phase towards product development, with Japanese companies likely to be at the front of the pack.  The US market holds the promise of some stellar start-ups, with huge investment potential.  Europe is in danger of missing the boat." 
Top players ignoring key Chinese market
The report also finds that many of the key players in nanoelectronics are ignoring potential key markets, most notably China.  While all of the top thirty players file in the US, Japan and Europe, only four, Samsung, Infineon, Philips and IBM, have filed patent applications in China.   
Rhian Granleese continues:

“Given the strength of China as both a consumer market and one of the world’s key shop floors for manufacture, it seems strange that the big Japanese electronics companies are choosing not to file there.  Our research revealed a growing amount of grass roots patent filing by domestic institutions that may well nudge the bigger international players into registering nanoelectronic patents on Chinese soil.” 
Traditional Energy companies risking power shift
The report finds that the number of nanoenergy applications has increased steadily, with over three times more patent applications being filed in 2003 than 2000.  Successes have been reported in a number of areas, with nanotechnology starting to play a key role in solar cells, thermoelectricity, batteries and fuel cells and insulation. 
Although the largest number of priority applications are being filed in the USA, this figure is distorted by the number of non-US applicants filing first in the USA due to the importance of the US market.  Priority filings in Japan are just under 70% of those in the US although the population of Japan is less than half that of the US.  In general, the Far East dominates the nanoenergy sector, with South Korea and China both having significant numbers of priority filings.     

The key players are predominantly Japanese electronics and automotive companies.  Japanese and Korean companies account for 3 of the top 5 filers of patents for nanoenergy related applications, with South Korean electronics firm Samsung being the second highest filer.

Table 2: Key Players in Nanoenergy

Nanoenergy Applicants

Number of patent families

Sony Corp


Samsung (includes Samsung Electronics & Samsung SDI)


California Institute of Technology










Chinese Academy of Science






Rhian Granleese comments:

“None of the well-known conventional energy companies appear in our top 20, despite the fact that many of them are now trying to portray themselves as dealing in all forms of energy.  Similarly, although many of the applications relate to improvements in battery technologies, the well-known Western battery manufacturers are also missing from our top 20.  It is notable, however, that three of the major Japanese car manufacturers, Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi, are present, demonstrating their leadership in hybrid motor technology.” 

Big drug companies to exploit nanotechnology

The Marks & Clerk report finds that although the US and the Far East are also dominant in patent applications for nanotechnology in the health and personal care sectors, Europe is more strongly represented in this area.  Between 2000 and 2005 the largest number of priority filings were in the US (380), followed by China (147) and Japan (41). Europe is represented by Germany (38), France (32) and applications to the European Patent Office (20).  The number of applications in France reflect in large part the significant filings by cosmetics giant L'Oréal. 
The big players in this field appear to be large cosmetic firms, such as L’Oreal, and publicly funded institutions, with few of the major pharmaceutical companies making an appearance amongst the top-tier of filers.
Table 3: Key Players in Nanotechnology in Health and Personal Care


Number of patent families



Elan Corp


Japan Science And Technology Corp


Boston Scientific


Chinese Academy of Sciences


Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India


Nanosystems plc


The Government of United States of America




Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Rhian Granleese comments:

“To date, cosmetics has been a big driver for developments in nanotechnology in health and personal care.  But with an ever ageing population and significant drug patents expiring, we expect the major pharmaceutical companies to look closely at the nanomedicine market, both in terms of trying to reformulate their blockbusters in order to extend market exclusivity, and to look at completely new therapeutic regimes and processes.  There is a chance that some of the SMEs filing patents in nanomedicine could be takeover targets for the bigger players.”
Major Far Eastern Corporates face competition from US start-ups
The Marks & Clerk Nanotechnology Report highlights a significant difference in approach in the US and the Far East.  In both nanoenergy and nanoelectronics, the large Japanese electronic companies and the Korean giant Samsung dominate the patent landscape.  In the US, the market is split between start-ups and universities with some notable exceptions such as Hewlett Packard. 
Rhian Granleese comments:

“The US patent landscape is far more fragmented than in the Far East, perhaps due to the prevalent venture capitalist culture and the tendency towards entrepreneurial start-ups.  Small start-up R&D companies filing a significant patent can find themselves subject to takeover bids of up to $20m.  The flipside is that wanting to develop beyond a certain stage can involve prohibitive costs, obviously not an issue for the large multinational corporations that are filing so many patents in the Far East.  It is difficult to predict which structure will prove the more effective in developing nanotechnology in the long run.”

1 The figures for 2004 and 2005 were not available at the time of the research
2 According to figures published by the Nanosciences and Nanotechnology Unit of the European Commission funding 
The Nanotechnology Report 2006 was written in part using data compiled on behalf of Marks & Clerk by CPA Analytics.  The three focus areas for analysis in the report are: nanoelectronics, nanotechnology in health and personal care, and nanoenergy.  These three areas were chosen because they are of current interest but also mirror the three key areas identified in the European NanoRoadMap (NRM).  The patent databases were searched for relevant publications and granted patents dating from 1 January 2000.   
Nanoelectronics is the most active patenting field at the moment and has been for many years as the trend in electronics has always been to make things smaller.
The second section of the report covers nanotechnology applications in the health care and personal care sectors. Findings include cosmeceuticals and neutraceuticals as both areas have embraced developments in nanotechnology and potentially many of the inventions in these areas could be applied to pharmaceuticals. 
The focus for nanoenergy is energy storage and production using mainly electrical methods.  Fuel additives which rely on nanotechnology are not included.

(The report was not available on Marks & Clerk's website, at the time of posting but check it out and contact

Dr. Rhian Granleese
> Dr. Rhian Granleese if you wish to acquire a copy )

© Copyright 2007 by Finfacts.com

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