Hydraulic fracturing continues to present new innovation opportunities on the energy scene which can/will transform the economy. See, for example, the front page report in the May 28, 2011 New York Times (“Oil Hidden in Shale Sets Off a Boom in Texas“).
According to this report, hydraulic fracturing is now being used to recover oil from “low-quality” shale in South Texas including the Eagle Ford site. The Times reports that more than a dozen companies plan to drill up to 3,000 wells in the next 12 months. Moreover, the fields were thought to be valueless five years ago, per the Times. However, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling were also developed for use with oil extraction, despite the larger molecules in oil compared to natural gas. Small-scale morphology including small diameter microholes and/or nanopores play a critical role in the extraction, and the small pore size can affect extraction. Of course, water remains a key issue as these developments move forward, particularly in areas of drought and limited water supply.
The micro- and nano-scale aspects of shale oil and gas extraction should be the subject of intense government-sponsored research, as well as research on solutions to water problems.
The USPTO is publishing triple the number of 977 patent publications compared to only several years ago! What gives?
For example, I noticed that yesterday, May 26, 2011, the USPTO published 72 nanotech 977 patent publications. That struck me as a lot to review if you want to follow nanotechnology. The week before was 65; the week before that was 63; and the week before that was 73. Thus far in 2011, the USPTO publishes on average about 58 per week. So this week was not unusual, unless you look at the recent past.
In 2010, the USPTO published 53 patents in the 977 category per week.
2009 provided only 29 per week; and 2008 only 16; and 2007 only 22.
Hence, in essence, the 977 publication rate has tripled in the past several years.
Nanotechnology, clearly, is a central theme in innovation growth in the United States. Yet, we see dialog along the lines of, “it does not matter if it is nanotech….we just care about the result and not if nanotech was used to get the result. Or, nanotechnology is not an industry.”
Clearly, innovators and those commercializing innovation see nanotech as important, however it is packaged as an “industry” or not!
The NNI, university, and federal laboratory research continue to be central drivers for nanotech. Note also that the NNI has a new Web page format at www.nano.gov. Excellent step ahead. However, unfortunately, the new Web page is not being regularly updated. In contrast, the Department of Energy Web page prolifically informs the public of new developments.
We provide occasional updates on patent data for hydraulic fracturing (HF) patent activities, building on our previously shared insights, including our April 13, 2011 posting on HF patent publications.
The charts included here illustrate large increases in HF patent activity starting about five years ago.
The first chart shows the increase in HF patent publications per year. The number of HF patent publications has, in essence, doubled in the past five years.
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Good news it was to see nanotech featured in The Economist, May 14-20, 2011 issue, pages 100-101. The story featured work from MIT (Gang Chen) and Boston College (Zhifeng Ren) which was recently published in Nature Materials. The gist is that a new type of solar cell is proposed, wherein nanoparticles of bismuth telluride are used to create a new type of solar cell based on the unheralded thermoelectric effect. According to the reporters, a key aspect of the technology is the nanoscale. The small size provides good electrical conduction but poor thermal conduction "through imperfectly understood quantum-mechanical processes." Initial solar efficiencies are sufficiently high to attract commercial interest, per the article.
Thermolectric effects are increasingly found in nanotechnology patent filings. For example, in this year alone (not yet half way finished), ten 977 patent applications have published which mention "thermoelectric" in the abstract. This may not seem a lot, but it represent almost 1% of the 977 patent publications for this year to date (10/1149). Prior years show far lower rates of filings (e.g., 2010 was only 6 publications at 0.22 %; 2009 was only 7 at 0.47%). One of them for 2011 is US Patent Publication 2011/0108778 which includes Chen and Ren and, according to public PTO records, is assigned to both MIT and Boston College.
GMZ Energy is a company co-founded by Chen and Ren to commercialize thermoelectric materials and, according to news reports, recently received multi-million dollar venture funding. The Economist article, however, did not mention GMZ Energy.
Today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a very important, interesting article on using innovative technology like GPS to track frack water, Tracking Fracking Water Goes High-Tech. We are measuring whether business method type patents are being sought in this space. Business method patents can be economically valuable but can also present high levels of legal risk and uncertainty. Stay tuned.
Later this week, I will attend the 5th Annual Solvay – COPE Symposium on Organic Electronics in Atlanta.
The forum is a great opportunity for large companies, small companies, and universities to converge. In addition, it is an excellent example of bringing leading research together from Europe, Japan, China, and the United States. As noted in previous blog discussions, OLED lighting and organic solar cells are cutting edge technologies for cleantech and nanotech. The forum agenda includes highlights such as:
- Electroluminescent Metal Complexes and Their Assemblies
- Influence of Film Microstructure Upon Charge Photogeneration and Recombination in Organic Solar Cells
- Understanding and Controlling Solar Energy Conversion: The Relationship Between Nanostructure and Efficiency
- Printed OPV for Affordable and Clean Power
- Solvay Developments in Organic Electronics
The importance of standard setting for nanotechnology development has long been recognized. One important organization for standard setting is ASTM International. May 15, 2011 will kick-off ASTM’s Committee Week in Anaheim, California. On May 16 – 17, 2011, the ASTM nanotech committee, E56, will meet. I will be presenting to the group on recent developments in patent issues.
In many cases, one can only fully understand an invention by understanding the properties or performance in quantitative terms. This leads to the question of measurement. Patent documents, including patent claim strategies, can be improved by resort to standard testing, including ASTM testing. A review of the patent literature through May 5, 2011 shows that only 2.3% of the nanotech 977 granted patents refer to ASTM tests (160 out of 6,880 patents), and only 3.5% of the published nanotech 977 patent applications refer to ASTM tests (298 out of 8529).
Recent developments in the standardization processes from the solar cell and OLED sectors will be discussed. Patent claim construction and the risks of patenting a standard will also be discussed.
For more information about the program or to register, please visit the ASTM Committee Week Web page.
From the beginnings of the NNI, the "race" between the industrialized countries to develop nanotechnology was a focus point. The U.S. NNI was seen as a catalyst for this race which spread internationally. For example, M.C. Roco authored an early, seminal article on the NNI and spoke of the United States having a nanotechnology "powerhouse of discoveries and inventions" (J. Nanoparticle Research, 6: 1-10, 2004). Patenting is one measure for who is "winning" this race. Hence, 10 years later, we surveyed the current set of 977 granted nanotech U.S. patents for 10 countries (the 977 nanotech patent count now stands at 6,880 as of May 2, 2011).
Following the United States, Japan clearly leads the pack with 2,360 points in our counting system. S. Korea is a distant second with 665 points, and Germany comes in at number three with 565 points. A second group was Taiwan (323 points), France (294 points), Canada (277 points), and Great Britain (174 points). The third group with the fewest included China (146), Italy (94), and Australia (55).
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