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News : Innovation Last Updated: Mar 27, 2015 - 7:37 AM

Graphene: Discovered in UK - commercialisation gains maybe elsewhere
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
May 19, 2014 - 7:21 AM

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George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer (r), met with Dame Nancy Rothwell, university president, and professors Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov, to discuss their research, University of Manchester, Oct 2011. David Willetts, universities minister, is second from right.

Graphene is viewed as a potential wonder material that is derived from graphite and Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov, Russian-born scientists, who in 2010 had shared the Nobel Prize in Physics, first isolated the one atom thick carbon layer at the University of Manchester in 2004. However a decade later, there are fears that the UK may  lose out on its commercialisation.

Graphene is potentially a better conductor than silicon; it's transparent, lightweight, strong, flexible and elastic - - features that are of keen interest to the electronics business.

The scientists had worked in the Netherlands before moving to the University of Manchester and they published their seminal research paper on graphene in October 2004.

George Osborne, Chancellor of the exchequer, pledged £50m in research funding in 2011 and In March’s Budget, he promised further investment, describing graphene as a “great British discovery that we should break the habit of a lifetime with and commercially develop in Britain.”

On April 1, the chancellor was back in Manchester to mark the topping out ceremony of the National Graphene Institute (NGI) and he delivered a speech praising "revolutionary science" at the University of Manchester.

Set to open in early 2015, the £61m institute will see university scientists and commercial partners working side by side on future applications using the wonder material.

However, based on patent applications, the UK is a laggard in the race to commercialise the discovery, with China and South Korea sprinting ahead..

The Financial Times says that of the 11,372 patents and patent applications worldwide relating to graphene, the UK has filed just 101 - - equivalent to less than 1%.

Almost two-thirds of the patent applications have been made by Asian companies or organisations, according to data compiled by Cambridge IP, a UK-based technology strategy company.

China in 2012-2013 made more than 80% of all patent applications.

The quality of patents vary and numbers in themselves do not tell the whole story.

However, Dr Andrea Ferrari, director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre,  acknowledged to the FT that the UK  and Europe need to catch up in terms of patent activity. “If you wait too long, then you may find that some technology may be blocked by patents,” he says.

Of the 11,372 graphene patents filed to date, 7,924 relate to manufacturing technologies, according to Cambridge IP. Asia accounts for 3,060 of these patents, compared with Europe’s 361 and 41 in the UK.

The FT says that while development will take many years, a challenge for the UK is that is that its firms that are working on development are minnows compared with the likes of Samsung Electronics of South Korea.

The biggest UK high tech company ARM Holdings reported in February 2014 that its processor technology was in 2.9bn chips that had been shipped in 2013, including ones used in smartphones and tablet devices - -up 16% year-on-year.

However, it supplies the IP (intellectual property); it doesn't manufacture and the FTSE 100 company has less that 3,000 employed worldwide compared with 44,000 in Google's core business.

Graphene  Wonderstuff - The One Show, BBC1, 11th June 2013

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