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Headlines Published on 28 November 2006

Title Europe at risk of ‘missing the boat’ on nanoelectronics, report says

Despite concerted efforts by public officials, European patent applications lag behind other major players in nanotechnology, such as the US and Far East, a recent report indicates. In their first ever Nanotechnology Report, UK-based patent firm Marks & Clerk took a survey of patent application trends across the globe. They studied patent activity across sectors where nanotechnology is expected to produce the next major wave of innovation, such as nanoelectronics, nanoenergy, and nanotechnology in health and personal care. When it comes to nanoelectronics, the report warns that “Europe is in danger of missing the boat.”

Despite bad news, Europe is performing well in cosmetic and skin care R&D  © Alex
Despite bad news, Europe is performing well in cosmetic and skin care R&D
© Alex
The report notes that though total funding for nanotechnology in Europe is behind other parts of the world, public funding is highest in Europe. For 2004, total R&D funding in Europe reached $2.4 billion, compared to $3.6 and $2.8 billion in the US and Japan respectively. However, public funding in Europe, at $1.7 billion, exceeded that of both the US ($1.5 billion) and Japan ($0.9 billion).

“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,” says Dr. Rhian Granleese, co-author of the report.

Dr Granleese suggests that the problem isn’t with the research, but that European scientists may just be less business savvy. Europeans may simply be less likely to file a patent on their work, and EU efforts to the contrary haven’t yet delivered satisfactory results.

“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.”

Dr Maureen Kinsler, a partner at Marks & Clerk, discussed the report in a recent article posted on the industry website, and pointed to a Cambridge/Toshiba project which produced a novel approach to “incredibly long distance, entirely secure communications systems” as an example of good practice. She says that there are other projects, however, which showed “dangerous laxity” when it came to “commercially safeguarding such R&D.”

Dr Kinsler sees the problem as mostly cultural.

“The vast majority of EU states are simply not comfortable with the idea of a federal approach to research. Member states too often see one another as rivals. The biggest sticking point is the interaction between Europe’s academic institutions and its commercial ones.”

One bright spot in the otherwise bleak landscape for European nano-research is in health care. Europe’s numbers were boosted in the filed thanks to large cosmetics firms such as French giant L’Oreal.

More information:

  • NMP priority under FP6
  • NanoRoadMap homepage
  • Nanotechnology Report
  • Electronicsweekly commentary

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