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.”
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 electronicsweekly.com, 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.
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