I attended today the USPTO partnership meeting on “additive manufacturing” (aka 3D Printing). The content was excellent, covering both talks and demonstrations. Companies presenting included 3D Systems, Stratasys, Shapeways, MakerBot, Ex One, and EOS. Several hundred persons attended, including in person and via the web, and the room energy was excellent throughout the three hours plus of content. The 3D printing revolution appears to be on after some 25 years of gestation.
MakerBot is featured in this article. Ex One is featured here.
The USPTO should be congratulated for putting together this informative, exciting event. The USPTO did not give too much overview of how patenting impacts this, but patenting was frequently noted by the speakers, and the PTO did note that there have been around 6,800 patent applications filed in this area over the past ten years. I was particularly struck by the concept that 3D printing can in some cases make objects which cannot be made by other ways. I would also like to hear more about nanoscale aspects of this including materials, interfaces, and nanoscale resolution. One of the driving forces for nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing is additive manufacturing. This recently published U.S. patent application from Lockheed Martin (2013/0018243) shows use of carbon nanotubes and uses the phrase “bio-additive manufacturing.” We will continue to monitor patent filings in this important area as 2013 progresses.
In 3D printing, an object is built up layer-by-layer under computer controlled manufacturing. The talks today covered the historical development including the original stereolithography, laser sintering, binder-on-powder printing, and inkjet 3D printing. Today, some of the companies are trying to “democratize” the technology and introduce this wonder to the general public. With 3D printing, everyone can become a creator. Recently media reports on 3D printing have been abundant. Hopefully, venture capital will be interested. Stay tuned!
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.
I saw this recent BBC article re spiderman and nanotechnology – enjoy. The article notes the technology of one company, nanoGriptech, which is a spin-off company from Carnegie Mellon University (see Professor Metin Sitti). More generally, the article relates to bio-inspired adhesives (see geckos, for example) and applications with robotics. NanoGriptech was funded early on by the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center. I encourage readers to explore this web page for interesting updates including inputs from their new leader, Leone Hermans-Blackburn.
Miracles of nature and science are all around us, and one of them is the abilty of an organism to heal itself. If skin is cut, the skin can repair itself. Can that concept also be applied to synthetic materials and coatings? One company trying to commercialize the concept is Autonomic Materials, Inc. (AMI). In the AMI approach, microcapsules are used. AMI recently announced it completed a series B financing, with Phoenix Venture Partners investing. In these tougher economic times, including tough times for venture capital, AMI’s receipt of investment is good news. More about Phoenix Venture Partners can be found in attached link.
MSNBC web page today has posted an excellent brief piece on ten ways nanotech is being used now and people may not even know it. We recommend looking. Number one was band-aids; others are cool; but they finish with an eye-opener…. not necessarily appropriate for a law firm blog arguably ? Please read and enjoy.
We confirm that a nanotechnology patent filing explosion continues at a record pace in 2012 as we enter the final trimester of the year. On July 8, 2012, we reported that the USPTO was on pace to publish a record number of class 977 nanotechnology patent applications (over 4,000). This was also noted in past postings and reflects a solid trend. We checked again today and confirm that the current projection to end of the year remains at over 4,000 (4,043). The broad variety of technology in the filings is startling and in places unconventional. For example, US Patent Publication 2012/0221268 (the last application to publish) relates to quantum computing and lists Microsoft as assignee. Hydraulic fracturing is increasingly referred to in this body of patent literature as there are 16 such publications this year which is double the number compared to the prior three years combined (e.g., Halliburton’s US Patent Publication 2012/0220504).
Hopefully, as many of these patent filings as possible will serve useful commercial purposes and facilitate investment from the private sector as well as from government. The licensing of these patent filings can be analyzed for use in policy formulation and business development. Certainly, the on-going miniaturization of electronic devices – a hot patent topic these days with the Apple v. Samsung developments - will require more developments in nanotechnology including, for example, better batteries, power management, semiconductors, and displays. Clearly, many of the patent filings find applications related to energy, electronics, and bio nanotechnology.
In addition, hopefully the quality of filings remains solid despite the pressures to file applications. Finally, (hopefully!), patent reform will function to improve the patent system and encourage investment, particularly as it applies to nanotechnology inventions.
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.
The Materials Genome Initiative received a boost this week when the OSTP (Office of Science Technology Policy) announced important updates. Several of these relate directly to nanotechnology.
For example, the NNI (National Nanotechnology Initiative) has now set fourth its fourth signature initiative, called Nanotechnology Knowledge Infrastructure (NKI). A key aspect of NKI is predicting the properties of nanomaterials. The prior three initiatives related to nanomanufacturing, nanosolar, and nanoelectronics.
In addition, Lockheed Martin is leading a new carbon nanostructure consortium.
Hopefully, concrete action will flow from these important updates, in contrast to mere “bureaucratic shuffling” or “talking for the sake of talking.” Private sector involvement, reflected in the Lockheed work, is critical. Good to see executive action (or at least action from the executive branch). More information can be found in this link and also this other link.
Today, a fresh crop of 102 nanotech class 977 patent publications were published at the US PTO. The total now for 2012 is 1,249, which projects to the end of the year to be 3,608. If this continues through 2012, it will be another record year for publishing nanotech 977 patent applications. The numbers go up each year: last year 2011 was 3,439; the year before 2,770 (2010); and before than 1,499 (2009). Hence, the number has more than doubled in but two years.
The 977 nanotech patent applications cover the gamut of nanotech commercial application spaces including personalized medicine, cleantech, defense, semiconductors, and the like. See, for example, US Pat. Pub. 2012/0088235 published April 12, 2012 for rapid DNA sequencing, which is critical to personalized medicine.
Hopefully, government is working with venture capital on how best to adapt the investment systems for commercializing nanotech innovations (e.g., technology transfer from universities and federal labs, including the Bayh-Dole system). Otherwise, many opportunities will be wasted.
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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Nanotechnology has made it again into some mainstream press. The December 3, 2011 edition of The Economist has a 28 page Technology Quarterly which is a must-read for those that follow nanotech. Nanotechnology’s role in commercialization efforts is noted in several of the articles – good to see!
First, there is “Getting Past the Guards,” an article on the health side of nanotech regarding delivering pharmaceutical drugs past the body’s natural defenses (pages 18-19 in the paper edition). One such defense is the blood-brain barrier. Another is the small size of blood capillaries. Anticancer drugs can clump too much and cause blocking in the small capillary. Recent research is reported, however, where drug particles are converted to nanoparticles with a combination of sound waves and use of polymers to form shells. Certainly, cancer treatment is one blockbuster application of nanotech which should be stressed to government officials in charge of government funding and commercialization policy. An article is also attached on delivery of drugs across the blood-brain barrier using nanotechnology.
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Patent filing data are suggesting (if not confirming) that nanotechnology is an increasingly important technology sector in the U.S. For example, in 2004, the US PTO created the 977 nanotechnology class which provides a useful metric. In 2011, the 10,000th nanotechnology 977 patent publication published. The current patent publication count stands at 10,735 (as of December 8, 2011). Of these, 3,223 were published in 2011 which is about 30%. About 70% of the 10,735 have published in the past three years (2009-2011). An explosion this is.
Patent publications are a leading indicator for current trends in patenting. Because patents can take 2-6 years to grant, typically, patent publications are a more sensitive measure for the trends. Moreover, not every patent application is granted, which further skews the analysis if one focuses only on granted patents.
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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).
A Senate subcommittee held a hearing today generally praising nanotech and discussing its future. The hearing title was "National Nanotechnology Investment: Manufacturing, Commercialization, and Job Creation." The attached link provides two plus hours of the hearing. Good to see past nanotechnology investment maturing and becoming an increasingly positive force, despite the climate of tough budget decisions. Past basic research strategies can be continued; now, commercialization can be expanded. The NNI should not just be reauthorized but expanded.
The Economist featured quantum dot commercialization in displays as its lead science and technology article in its June 18, 2011 issue (pages 85-86). For example, Nanosys is reported to be working on quantum dots applications for LCD displays. OLED display technology is discussed, including quantum dots potential role in OLED. Finally, quantum dot application in solar is also noted. Additional companies noted include Samsung Electronics, QD Vision, and Nanoco.
The article concluded:
"Quantum dots, then, look as if they have a bright future. Much hype has surrounded the idea of nanotechnology – the thought that manipulating objects on the scales of a billionth of a metre will produce useful products. So far, the results have been less than spectacular. Dots, though, may prove an exception."
I would phrase it quite differently. Nanotechnology is central to much of innovation in the "real world" including advances in energy and medicine (contrasting real world with innovation genre such as social media, software, and the internet). Innovation in this "real world" takes time to turn into useful products, in some cases decades of time. Many barriers to commercialization have been identified including length of time between research and commercialization, the valley of death, the need for expensive infrastructure, lack of experience with large scale production at universities and start-ups, etc. Energy and financing should focus on solving such problems, not on hyped expectations devoid of realistic timing.
This week, another 87 nanotech class 977 patent applications quietly published at the US PTO from applicants around the world working in diverse application spaces. Contained therein will be commercialization jewels quite possible very free from hype and improving our energy and medicine situations.
The NNI has now released its February 2011 strategic plan. One goal is of particular interest: Goal 2 continues to be: "Foster the Transfer of New Technologies into Products for Commercial and Public Benefit." In addition, DOE contributions in this strategy focus on solar, energy storage, alternative fuels, and energy efficiency. Signature Initiatives continue to be: nanomanufacturing, nanosolar, and nanoelectronics. These themes have been discussed and publicized over the past half-year or so in preparation for this new plan.
The commercialization strategy under Goal 2 continues to be vague, however, with general reference to a STAR METRICS project and OECD Innovation Strategy to measure things. The federal government research programs (ok, now call them innovation programs) excel in funding grants, leading to patents and publications. However, where are the jobs and private sector profits (in the United States)? How far will funding go to establish production? What is becoming of the impact of Bayh-Dole funding dollars on jobs? These metrics will be critical in coming months as budget negotiations deepen. The OECD Innovation Strategy speaks of government funding new technologies like cleantech during times of recession, but then rebalancing as the economy recovers. But is that enough for cleantech and nanotech commercialization?
The new strategic plan issues as President Obama’s Administration launches its latest budget proposals. Innovation is a strong theme for spending increases, including clean energy and the Start-up America program.
Media reports show Plastic Logic is to receive up to $700 million in a deal with Rusnano.
The money will help finance construction of a plastic electronics fabrication plant in Zelenograd, outside Moscow.
Think global: The international intrigue demonstrates the span of possibilities for those who think globally in their business planning. This also further demonstrates connections between nanotech and printed electronics.