Monday, October 25, 2004

IS NANOTECH WALKING THE "BUSINESS METHODS" PATH? (From The USPTO's decision to set up Class 977, as the new category for nanotechnology, is a recognition that a swarm of nanoscale inventions is headed the patent office's way. However, some nanotechnology inventions are already on the market, including fibers for clothing and mattresses that are highly stain resistant and water resistant; particles of titanium dioxide that make sunscreen transparent; and nanocrystals of silver for antimicrobial bandages.

These products are the vanguard of a technology that is expected to touch every part of the economy, the way computers have. But there is an important difference, according to Lux Research, a technology research company in New York. Information technology was about recording and analyzing the physical world, but nanotechnology is about changing how the physical world behaves.

For example, a hospital computer may keep track of when a patient will receive a hip-implant operation, how his blood tests came back and who his insurer is, but a nanoscale coating on the surface of his implant affects how it performs in his body.

Depending on how you define it, nanotechnology may already be contributing billions of dollars to the economy. The National Science Foundation predicted in 2001 that nanotechnology would contribute $1 trillion by 2015, and some experts, including the people at Lux, think that figure might be low.

The nanotechnology surge is confronting the patent office with a familiar problem--assessing claims of innovation that do not match up neatly with the way patent examiners are trained to categorize them--but on a whole new scale. The danger is that an examiner trained in, say, chemistry will be running into nanotechnology patent claims that also touch on physics and biology, and may overlook previous inventions or publications in those fields that are relevant to whether a new claim is patentable.

The patent office began training its examiners in nanotechnology concepts and terminology in November, and has set up a working group of outside lawyers and researchers to give advice. But that has not been enough to head off confusion in a realm where the same invention might be called a carbon nanotube, an elongated cylinder made of carbon or a carbonaceous cylinder in three separate patent applications, according to experts like Stephen B. Maebius, an intellectual property lawyer in Washington and former patent examiner.

As a result, Maebius and other lawyers say, a number of overlapping patents have already been issued. The potential for years of legal battles could freeze development in its tracks, according to Matthew Nordan, vice president of research at Lux.

"It's the biggest threat to commercialization," Nordan said.

1 Comentário:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that information, I really wasn't aware that products with nanotechnology are actually available yet.


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