The OSTP has provided updated information noting two efforts by the Obama administration related to materials. This includes the older Materials Genome Initiative and the newer Critical Materials Initiative (a Department of Energy program). Other efforts from the Obama administration in connecting technology and economic policy include the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. The Materials Genome Initiative is now about a year and a half old (dating back to the first Obama term), so 2013 will be an important year to see where it is going. The Critical Materials Initiative is announced as a new, post-election effort and appears to focus on the shortage of rare earth metals and lithium and clean energy industry. Hopefully, fiscal cliff and budget haggles will not slow progress in these arenas.
Another interesting nanotechnology book recently appeared, The Visioneers, by W. Patrick McCray, 2013, 323 pages, $29.95 hardback at Barnes & Noble (“How a group of elite scientists pursued space colonies, nanotechnologies, and a limitless future”). One focus in this book is on the history of nanotechnology up to around 2004, including the role of Eric Drexler and Richard Smalley and their famous debate. The origin of the NNI is briefly covered. The multiple strands of nanotechnology are explored, ranging from futuristic concepts to advanced materials science for making products now. Tensions between different nanotech philosophies and groups are explored. Good read, although it would have been interesting if more content had been provided for after 2004. Also, nanotechnology is only one of two conveyed stories of visioneering.
Also, 3D printing seems to be the rage these days in the technical and general media. The USPTO will hold a special session on 3D printing on January 23,2013. The 3D printing company ExOne is announcing an IPO attempt. In 3D printing, thin layers are built on one another. Nanotechnology connects in the materials used for 3D printing, as well as the notion of making thinner and thinner layers. Where is nanotechnology going? It is impacting personalized medicine and energy.
Clearly, one visioneering answer also now arising is in 3D printing.
The final phases of U.S. patent reform become active on March 16, 2013 when the U.S. patent system switches to a “first-to-file” system. The USPTO has to date only issued draft guidance on this switch. Hopefully, they will issue final guidelines soon so patent applicants can adapt well to the new regime, particularly if the final guidelines differ from the draft guidelines issued last August 2012. Many patent applicants will want to consider filing applications before March 16, 2013 if appropriate to avoid the new law. In some cases, split parallel filings, rather than a single filing, may be a good call. Hence, planning should have started by now.
While patent reform impacts all technologies, not just nanotechnology and clean technology, the patent filing rates in these sectors are rising, so attention to patent reform is particularly needed in these sectors.
Finally, March 16 is a Saturday so it would be very good to have all the ducks lined up on or before March 15, 2013 !
The Wall Street Journal this week featured nanopore sequencing in its year end review of important health trends (both hard copy and electronic copies). The speed and low cost were stressed, as sequencing machines become desktop in size. We have noted before how the miracle of high speed sequencing is reaching the main stream press (see September 19 and July 31, 2012 posts). This nanotechnology is one of the cornerstones for personalized medicine.
The nanotechnology patent filing boom continues. In 2012, the USPTO published 4,098 nanotechnology class 977 applications, which represents a 19.2% increase over last year. By way of comparison, in 2008, the USPTO published only 827 nanotechnology applications, and in 2009, only 1,499. Hence, the number has almost tripled in three years.
This patenting trend is consistent, as we have previously commented in our November 25, September 4, and July 8, 2012 posts. Hopefully, federal policy makers are noticing this important trend and managing well the implications including licensing and litigation. At least 12.4% of the filings report a federal funding statement as required under the Bayh-Dole act.
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.”
Momentum for “additive manufacturing” (aka “3D printing”) continues to grow. The USPTO recently announced a customer partnership meeting to be held on January 23, 2013.
In addition, in August 2012, the Obama administration announced a new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) initiative, including $30M federal funding. This week’s Economist also features an example, a new “carbomorph” material which can be used to print flexible electronics. One 3D printing ink is based on silver and carbon nanotubes. Carbomorph, however, is based on carbon black and polyester. Apparently, this enables far easier printing of electronic circuits.
Many links exist between additive manufacturing and nanotechnology. Key aspects of additive manufacturing are the materials used, and nanomaterials are an important ingredient. Also, forming high resolution solid structures cuts to the essence of nanotechnology.
General Electric’s CEO Jeff Immelt recently spoke on his company’s efforts with additive manufacturing, indicating manufacturing will become “sexy” again. Hopefully, additive manufacturing will also become an area for venture capital and angel investing. The USPTO event apparently will feature the companies Stratasys and MakerBot, and MakerBot just started in 2009.
PCAST recently submitted a very interesting, readable, and searchable report to the OSTP on federal policy for the future of basic research funding and commercialization (124 page pdf). Nanotechnology was mentioned on page 22 as an example of benefits of basic research including its influence on energy:
“-Nanotechnology research, on the heels of coordinated Federal investment, is leading to advances in areas such as new drug delivery systems, more resilient materials and fabrics, safer and more effective industrial catalysts, faster computer chips, and sustainable development in water and energy resources.”
Nanotechnology also appeared on page 45 with respect to discussion of university “proof-of-concept” centers:
“-The (MIT) Deshpande Center supports emerging technologies, including biotechnology, biomedical devices, information technology, new materials, nanotechnology, and energy innovations. It sponsors a grant program, a catalyst (mentor) program, innovation teams (i-Teams), and events.”
Finally, nanotechnology was mentioned on page 80 with respect to attracting researchers from abroad to come to the U.S.
Commercialization, patents, and technology transfer are important themes mentioned throughout. Nanotechnology is but one of a variety of “labels” used to describe sectors of research for policy analysis. Nanotechnology integrates closely with many of these other “labels.” Hopefully, its importance will not be lost in the integration.
There is another update in the story of the nanotech/cleantech company A123, which recently declared bankruptcy. According to the Washington Post this weekend, “Wanxiang America, the U.S. arm of a Chinese automotive parts giant, won the bidding for a bankrupt Massachusetts-based lithium battery manufacturer that was once hailed as a cornerstone of President Obama’s quest for American dominance in electric vehicles and battery technology.”
“A123 Systems announced Sunday that Wanxiang would pay $256.6 million for all of A123’s technology, its manufacturing facilities in the United States and China, and its contracts with utilities seeking grid storage and automakers seeking batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles.”
“Wanxiang would not acquire A123’s Ann Arbor, Mich.-based government business, which includes all of its U.S. military contracts. Those would be acquired for $2.25 million by Navitas Systems, a Woodridge, Ill.-based provider of energy storage products for commercial, industrial and government agency customers.” Please see the Washington Post article for more details.
Intellectual property concerns of various stripes apparently did not stop the sale, for now at least.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recently announced updates with the Materials Genonme Initiative (MGI). $25M in grants are noted, and the awardees include universities, national laboratories, and private sector companies (e.g., GM). Collaboration continues to be a strong theme.
Collaboration usually sounds good and makes sense in many contexts, particularly for purely basic research with long-term visions. However, collaborations can also generate complicated intellectual property and patent issues. For shorter term research with commercial applications as a goal, this can become a problem if not managed well. Hopefully, the MGI is considering this aspect of this new, exciting commercialization program. The MGI is now about 1 1/2 years old. The MGI has many close links to nanotechnology and the NNI (National Nanotechnology Initiative) including a program for predicting the properties of nanomaterials. Hopefully, the MGI is well and efficiently integrated with the NNI.
Also, hopefully 2013 budget issues do not slow down the MGI. Stay tuned.