This week, press reports show Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) received a large, jury damage award ($1.17B) in a patent infringement lawsuit. This significant development is part of the on-going important policy dialog about university patenting, as noted in the attached press report link. Apparently, the patents arose out of the CMU Data Storage Systems Center (DSSC) (see US Patent Nos. 6,201,839 and 6,438,180; noise detection technology for computer hard drives). The damages might rise or fall with additional legal proceedings.
While the patents in the suit were not nanotechnology patents, the DSSC has a large nanotechnology aspect to its efforts. Also, university patenting is an important part of the nanotechnology innovation “ecosystem.”
Good to see: high throughput, inexpensive DNA sequencing is being featured on NPR this week in a series entitled the $1,000 Genome. Many of the technologies for this revolution in sequencing, of course, relate closing to or directly are nanotechnology (e.g., nanopore, microfluidic, and/or lab-on-a-chip technologies). Personalized medicine depends on it. More generally, the interface between biology and electronics is one of the most compelling arguments for further development and commercialization of nanotechnology and, more particularly, bio nanotechnology. Another leading example is allowing partially blind or blind persons to see better with artificial retinas.
A brief check of the nanotechnology class 977 patent literature shows IBM has activity in this area. See, for example, their recent US patent publications 2012/0199483 (published August 9, 2012); 2012/0193237 (published August 2, 2012); 2011/0308949 (December 22, 2011); and 2011/0279125 (November 17, 2011).
Hopefully, angel and venture capital investment will also flow to these exciting areas. This appears to be turning out to be one of many virtually secret “killer apps” for nanotech. For example, the NPR series does not delve too much into how the sequencing is done (per the series, sequencing done in a ”black box”). Hopefully, despite the secrecy, the federal and state governments, including those who fund and run the NNI, are watching.
The OSTP has recently posted a report on advanced manufacturing, which identifies eleven “cross-cutting” technologies. Of these, no. 5 is nanomanufacturing and half of the others directly relate to nanotech (e.g., advanced sensing, advanced materials, biomanufacturing, robotics, flexible electronics). The report is about 70 pages long.
The NNI is now presenting to the public a new signature initiative devoted to sensors. Two thrusts are identified: (1) use of nanotechnology in building sensors, and (2) develop better sensing methods for detecting nanomaterials. An associated white paper provides more details.
This is the fifth signature initiative from the NNI. According to the announcement, past sensor work has been held back due to problems with lack of reliability, reproducibility, and robustness. Sensors apply to a broad spectrum of industries, including energy, health, and defense. Certainly, after 9-11, sensors were identified as a key technology associated with homeland defense. Hence, federal thrusts in this sector would seem to make sense.
Some references to commercialization are present. For example, the announcement refers to US Patent No. 7,889,954 as an example of the type of technology upon which they want to build (from the Sailor group at University of San Diego). However, as if often the case with the federal government announcements, the commercialization issues at stake lack detail. For example, no patent studies are noted as part of what is important commercially in work to date. No analysis of the Bayh-Dole system in this sector or of the history of licensing or venture funding for sensor technology is noted. Brief reference to nanomanufacturing is noted (nanomanufacturing is another NNI signature initiative).
The ’954 patent, according to PTO records, is assigned to University of California and the federal government, jointly. Federal money apparently was used to develop the invention. The patent abstract for this patent is below:
An embodiment of the invention is a remote sensor that has an optical fiber terminating in a tip. A thin film porous particle having a characteristic optical response that changes in the presence of an analyte is optically coupled and physically attached to the tip of the optical fiber. The optical response of the particle changes in the presence of analyte, and the particle also serves to concentrate analyte. The thin film porous particle can be functionalized toward sensitivity for a predetermined analyte or analytes. A method of remote sensing exposes the remote sensor to an environment to be monitored for analyte. The thin film porous particle is probed with a beam of light. Reflected light is monitored through the optical fiber for a shift in frequency or intensity.
Have been reading the 2011 book, Bottled Lightning, Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy, by Seth Fletcher. An excellent read for anyone interested in cleantech and nanotech commercialization. The focus is on the lithium ion battery and its scientific, engineering, and manufacturing history. Also, its application to the electric car. The need for high energy density batteries at good cost is a fundamental challenge for nanotechnology (e.g., development nanophosphate battery packs). High surface area is a key parameter directly linked to nanotechnology. The book also draws attention to patent and licensing issues which was interesting. Much bang-for-the buck in this 215 page paperback – enjoy! Here is one public review.
Also, was at the US PTO Cleantech Customer Partnership Meeting this week. In the technical presentation, focus was more on wind and solar.
However, advanced batteries continue to be a critical aspect for cleantech and one of its flagship products, the electric car.
One important nanotechnology is Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD). In ALD, one can build up molecular layers on surfaces at the angstrom and nanoscale levels. The technology traces back to the 1960′s and 1970′s. ALD has a variety of application areas including defense and cleantech (e.g., solar cells, batteries) as well as the semiconductor industry and medical devices.
This week, new patent litigation was announced involving ALD. Its interesting and important that the patent at issue, US Patent No. 6,812,157, is not categorized as a 977 nanotechnology patent (the plaintiff is Atomic Precision Systems and the defendants include Jusung Engineering, Micron Technology, Intel, and IBM. More and more ALD patents and patent filings are emerging. For example, the nanotechnology 977 patent publication database shows a rapidly growing role for ALD. As of today, 106 of the 977 patent publications recite ALD or atomic layer deposition in the abstract or claim. Of these, most of them (76) were published in 2010-today, and 2011 showed more (40) compared to 2010 (30).
Nanotechnology does not get the buzz it used to. ALD, however, illustrates how quietly nanotechnology pushes the technology boundaries, decade after decade, and contributes commercially in a variety of diverse applications. ALD is now positioned as a leading nanomanufacturing method. At a recent nanotechnology conference, the ALD commercialization talk from Cambridge NanoTech was a highlight. Another company, ALD NanoSolutions, recently announced progress with defense applications.
Carbon nanotubes continue to demonstrate amazing versatility. For example, IBM recently announced 9 nm transistors that outperform silicon. Nanocomp makes larger carbon nanotube structures and show, on their web page, 32 foot sheets. The web page, www.nano.gov, is doing a better job in 2012 compared to 2011 in conveying updates in the nanotech world, including the IBM development of the 9 nm CNT transistor.
The carbon nanotubes are a central theme in the nanotech patent literature. For example, among the 11,256 US 977 class nanotech patent publications, 37.1% of them mention carbon nanotube or nanotubes.
It would be good, many would argue, if the United States could develop a coherent, dependable policy to to commit to develop carbon nanotube technology, and similar nanotech wonders. The benefits will range from 9 nm to 32 foot technologies. Defense will be a leading driver to push the envelope on new materials leading to new products. Private sector venture capital priorities will rise and fall, which is fine, but US policy can promote a more stable, dependable effort to drive the future.
This year is the ten year anniversary for a leading nanotechnology conference, the Nanotechnology for Defense Conference (NT4D). The call for abstracts indicates a February 18, 2012 initial deadline. The conference will be held August 6-10 in Summerlin, Nevada.
Defense is one of the fundamental and perhaps the most stable pillar for nanotechnology commercialization, along with other pillars such as bio nanotechnology and energy. The history of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) interest in nanotechnology is noted in the Foreward of Ratner and Ratner’s book, Nanotechnology and Homeland Security, 2004 (written by James Murday, Office of Naval Research). The DoD interest in nanotechnology can be “clearly identified as early as the late 1970′s when its Ultrasubmicron Electronics Research (USER) program.” The DoD had a long history for research in the miniaturization of electronics. Early efforts focused on 2 nm structures and led to superlattice technologies. Programs in the 1980′s sought to exploit new tools like STM and AFM. In the 1990′s, DARPA initiated an ULTRA program for ultra fast, ultra dense electronics program. In addition, the Office of Naval Research began a program in nanostructured coatings. By 1997, the importance of nanotechnology to the DOD led to its designation as a “strategic research area.” When the NNI was created in 2001, the DoD wan an “enthusiastic supporter.”
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Following OLED commercialization updates is becoming pretty interesting. See, for example, www.OLED-info.com. Some recent news featured there include, for example:
- Universal Display Corp. (UDC) recently reported its first profitable quarter. See, also, the UDC web page update.
- Samsung Electronics plans to launch flexible OLED panels next year (perhaps starting with mobile phones, followed by tablets and other portable devices). See this YouTube video where allegedly one of these can survive a hammer pounding.
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Significant interesting OLED news seems to be crossing my desk more and more these days. Interest is high both for lighting and displays. OLED is part of the larger subject termed variously as “organic electronics” or “printed electronics.”
For example, UDC has been announcing a variety of new updates which resulted in a recent stock surge. On the IP front, OLED patenting is exploding. Academic work in the area is strong also as reflected in the recent SPIE meeting in San Diego with increased attendance and the upcoming fpi10 meeting in Beijing. In Russia, Plastic Logic is set to test their e-readers in schools (not OLED, but important development in organic electronics nevertheless). Finally, the Department of Energy continues to support OLED work.
Nanotechnology plays a significant role in OLED. For example, the OLED patent explosion is also evident in the US 977 nanotechnology patent literature. In this class, 229 patent publications (out of 9,741 as of today) refer to “OLED” or “organic light emitting diode.” Among these, two-thirds were published in 2010 and 2011 (152/229). Only 25 were published through 2007. That is a remarkable explosion. In addition, 12% were published with the government interest clause (27/229).
MSNBC featured a newly published paper in Nature Nanotechnology which – can’t speak for others – struck me as very significant work. In the paper, bacteria are studied which provide for nanofilaments and films which conduct electricity at relatively high conductivities. The conductive materials are amino acid based. One can regulate the gene expression; one can build transistors; etc. etc. ! The paper is entitled "Tunable Metallic-Like Conductivity in Microbial Nanowire Networks." Also striking is that the work arises out of a Physics Department rather than a biology or chemistry department. The work originates out of University of Massachusetts.
Protein electronic conductivity was recently reviewed. Also, last year, MSNBC also featured an article "Nanowire-Armed Bacteria are more than Alive."
Concepts of electronic transport in biological material is not new, of course. However, solid state or "dry" electronic conductors with higher, metallic-like conductivity?
Interesting patent strategies would seem present, particularly in view of the current "Myriad" case controversies about patenting materials found in or derived from nature.
Subject to the usual carefulness and skepticism required by science and law, …simply amazing.
One of the exciting markets to watch in coming months and years is OLEDs (organic light emitting diodes, a lead example of printed and organic electronics). I noted that one fourth the way through 2011, the patent office is expected for the first time to publish more than 5,000 patent applications which refer to OLED or "organic light emitting diode" (5,292 – projected). This number has been rapidly rising each year. For example, back in 2004, this number was only 1,243. The number went over 2,000 in 2006 and over 3,000 in 2008 (and over 4,000 last year).
Nanotechnology is playing a role in OLED development as well. Among the 977 nanotechnology patent publications, for example, 185 refer to OLED or "organic light emitting diodes." Again, a rapid rise can be observed where this year, 2011, the projection is for about 100 (92), whereas 2010 was at 85, 2009 was at 32, 2008 was at 20, and 2007 was only 13 (which was more than the previous five years combined).
OLED is also an example of energy efficient lighting so is an important aspect of cleantech.
Patents play an important role in OLED development. Universal Display Corporation, for example, recently announced it had acquired 74 OLED patents from Motorola. LG bought Kodak OLED group including patents for $100M and $414M in royalties, per media reports.
Cintelliq has also reported explosive growth in OLED patenting since 2000.
DARPA is quietly leading the way in nanotechnology as well as other advanced research sectors(DARPA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). One excellent, readable inside view on DARPA was provided in the recent book, The Department of Mad Scientists, How DARPA is Remaking our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs (by Michael Belfiore, 2009). This provided inspiration to look briefly at the impact of DARPA on nanotechnology patenting, as the book mentions the role of nanotechnology in, for example, high efficiency solar cells.
A crude search of 977 nanotechnology patents finds 100 granted patents which apparently derived from DARPA funding based on the government funding clauses. These cover a twenty-one year span, starting with Stanford University’s patent 4,908,519 issued March 13, 1990 (Professor Quate et al., "Loading Mechanism and Support Structure having Improved Vibration Damping Useful in Scanning Tunneling Microscopy"). The most recent issued just last week to Caltech (Professor Heath et al., 7,906,775, "Superlattice Nanopatterning of Wires and Complex Patterns").
The 100 patents cover a balance of both university and corporate research, focusing on areas such as nanopatterning, microfabrication, sensors, assorted nanomaterials, AFM, and transistors. The subjects even include nano biotechnology subjects such as nanofluidic chips, protein printing, and virus arrays. For example, Princeton’s Professor Chou et al. have patented use of nanochannels for evaluating, isolating, and imaging biopolymers (see US Patent No. 7,670,770). Sequencing DNA continues to be one of the cutting edge issues in nano biotechnology. Indeed, pulling DNA strands through nanopores is featured in the last Technology Quarterly in the Economist magazine (March 12-18 issue, page 13, "Nanopore Sequencing").
The "mad scientist" label for DARPA projects can create fear of the future. However, Belfiore’s book says DARPA is not so much frightening as it is inspiring for our future. For example, DARPA is also contributing to novel alternative energy technology such as high efficiency solar cells. Based on the review of their nanotechnology patenting results – agreed (at least for civilian applications).
CNN recently posted an important article on rare earth magnets and their critical and intriguing role in nanotech and cleantech, as well as defense (“The Race to Make the World’s Strongest Magnet“). Rare earth magnet technology is also supported by the DOE ARPA-E program. One issue is source of supply for this critical technology, where most of the supply of the rare earth metals comes from China (97%).
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Neophotonics Corp. has begun its public trading in early February, marking a significant event in the 2011 IPO market. Cleantech and nanotech watchers should be carefully watching this long awaited development. Neophotonics was formerly knows as Nanogram until 2002 and features much "submicron," a/k/a nanotechnology, in its patent portfolio. One investor is lead nanotech venture capital investor, Harris & Harris Group.
In reading the Neophotonics IPO prospectus, numerous important observations can be made regarding issues such as past business reorganizations, patent litigation, and manufacturing employment in China.
The federal and state governments should also be carefully watching this important IPO to see what works and does not work for technology commercialization, how policies are influencing the IPO process, and how to provide for a more favorable future. We are seeing early favorable press reports about this IPO.
We have previously noted the needed connections between nanotechnology and printed electronics. And we also previously addressed the needed connections between nanotechnology and cleantech. Not surprisingly, an important component for cleantech is printed electronics, completing this "triangle" of connections.
Illustrating these connectivities, for example, a nanomaterial can be printed as part of fabricating a printed electronic feature of a solar cell. A need exists to see where these three circles of technology commercialization overlap, and formulate useful governmental policies and legal regimes for how all three can be simultaneously and consistently promoted. In particular, a need exists to review how venture capital can continue to flow to these sectors. Of course, job creation should also be a theme. Additional important themes include making technology transfer easier (e.g., university licensing) and monitoring tech transfer issues with Asian and European companies.
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Because the NNI is at its ten year mark, much attention is now being focused on where the NNI is going for its next decade (I recently received an email which seemed to beg the reader urgently to send examples of how nanotech funding money has been useful in commerce – for use in a December conference on the subject). The importance of nanotech practical applications – even jobs – is now paramount. Energy and cleantech are important drivers, particularly with the current administration. Bio and medicine will always be important. However, a third arena is electronics.
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We wanted to review a case which we can call the case of the “self-serving” NDA. Let me explain:
One critical application of nanotechnology is in sensing, whether used for medical diagnostics or cleantech. For example, the NNI has recently produced a fifty page report on nanotech sensing at www.nano.gov (“Report of the National Nanotechnology Initiative Workshop, May 5-7, 2009”). When a sector of nanotechnology, such as sensing, becomes the subject of patent and/or trade secret litigation, this signals that the market for the technology has arrived.
One recent IP litigation has been focused on commercial products for nanotech sensing for glucose monitoring, and an important decision was just rendered. In reading these developments, lessons can be learned with respect to non-disclosure agreements, patent filings, and joint development. Many companies, of course, need to pursue joint development strategies in the real world, and the risks associated with joint development must be managed wisely.
To Read More about the Case of the Self-Serving NDA:
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Scientists have been looking for a better battery technology for years, be it a better material or a more efficient energy delivery. It seems a team at MIT might have found an answer.
A recent CNN article reports that a team of scientists at MIT discovered a microscopic energy source based on carbon nanotubes. The team, led by MIT professor Dr. Strano, reported that energy can be generated from these nanotubes, whose size allows a much smaller battery to be made but with the same energy output. A battery made of these tiny tubes have another advantage over the conventional battery – they are non-toxic!
Since the accidental discovery of metal-like doped polyacetylene in the 1970s, polymer battery research has been driven by the potential of low-cost and environmentally friendly power alternatives to lead-acid batteries. More recent discoveries of new conductive organic materials with higher power densities have also accelerated the the development of flexible "plastic" batteries.
When it comes to batteries of the future, Professor Yi Cui of Stanford University may soon have us asking, "Paper or Plastic?"
Cui’s research group has recently demonstrated a highly conductive storage device formed by coating a sheet of commercially available paper with ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires. Like ink absorbs into paper, the nanotube ink is similarly absorbed due to the small diameters of the solution processible nanomaterials.
With the potential of lasting through 40,000 charge-discharge cycles, these paper batteries may also offer a much longer lifetime than lithium batteries.
New progress has been made in the development of carbon nanotube assembly structure. As reported by Katherine Bourzac in her The Technology Review article entitled, Making Carbon Nanotubes into Long Fibers, a team at Rice University has developed a way to arrange carbon nanotubes into large structures, including fibers hundreds of meters long, by dissolving them in a “superacid.”
Carbon nanotubes are a promising material for making display control circuits because they’re more efficient than silicon and can be arrayed on flexible surfaces. Until recently, though, making nanotubes into transistors has been a painstaking process. As The Technology Review recently pointed out, researchers at the University of Southern California have now demonstrated large, functional arrays of transistors made using simple methods from batches of carbon nanotubes that are relatively impure.
In 1987, Eastman Kodak researchers Dr. Ching W. Tang and Steven VanSlyke opened the gates to a flurry of innovations related to organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs). More than 20 years later, Kodak announced today that it will sell substantially all the assets associated with its OLED business to a group of LG companies.
With Tang and VanSlyke’s novel two-layer structure (with separate hole and electron transporting layers) as a starting point, researchers have steadily continued to make patentable advancements in this relatively new field. From new device architectures incopororating nanoscaled charge carrier transport promoters, to new and stable organic semiconductors capable of emitting and absorbing at various wavelengths, OLED technology has been incorporated into solid-state lighting products and displays applications such as screens for mobile phones, digital cameras, and televisions. The technology has also spurred innovations related to flexible electronics, flexible displays, and even contributed to knowledge for photovoltaics applications.
In addition to selling their OLED business, Kodak has entered into a technology cross-license agreement with LG, bringing an end to patent litigation related to their imaging technologies, and a push to end the U.S. International Trade Commission’s investigations following complaints by both companies.
Graphene has become a new darling in the electronic application. As also noted by ScienceDaily, a team in the Kansas State University has developed 24-carat gold "snowflakes" to improve graphene’s electrical properties.