ERS Group Insights

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Commercialization of Nanotechnology

- Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The semiconductor transistor, carbon buckyball, quantum dots:  these examples of nanotechnology are the beginning of the story.  ERS Group Director Nels Pearsall discusses the latest trends in his most recent article on the successes and challenges that face attempts to commercialize these technological innovations.


The United States National Nanotechnology Initiative Timeline highlights various milestones in nanotechnology beginning with the 1985 discovery by Harold Kroto, Sean O'Brien, Robert Curl, and Richard Smiley of the carbon buckyball (Buckminsterfullerene (C60)) which later won the team the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  Also in 1985, Louis Brus discovered quantum dots (colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals) for which he later shared the 2008 Kavli Prize in Nanotechnology.  ERS Group Director Nels Pearsall discusses the next phase of the development of nanotechnology in his recent article "Commercialization of Nanotechnology."


 With the new millennium, nanotechnology transitions from the confines of research laboratories to broader commercial applications. As Chen et al. (2013) illustrate, commercial applications of nanotechnology have continued to grow and have “made significant economic impact in numerous sectors including semiconductor manufacturing, catalysts, medicine, agriculture, and energy production.”  In 2013, the number of patents issued under the nanotechnology classification, as defined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), was 1,130. This number represents four times as many patents as were issued just eight years earlier in 2006.


However, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association, in its "Comments on the National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan of 2013," “today’s transistor technology is approaching fundamental physical limits that will prevent further improvements without alternative technologies.” Those future advances in semiconductor manufacturing are dependent on further advances in nanotechnology.


While some express optimism that “nanoscale phenomena hold the promise for fundamental new applications”(Roco, 2007), it has been recognized that “the nanotech revolution has not quite arrived”(Sharrott and Chen, 2005). The technology continues to be used for “product innovation,” to enhance existing products and processes, and to a much lesser extent for process innovations focusing on developing new technologies and markets. And, research and development spending and commercialization costs represent significant barriers within the industry.


The unique struggles of the nanotechnology industry and commercialization strategies were the focal points of a panel entitled  “Patent Licensing in Nanotech,” held in October at the 50th Annual Licensing Executives Society (LES) meeting in San Francisco, and moderated by Mr. Pearsall. Joining Mr. Pearsall on the panel were other industry experts, Alexei Andreev, Ph.D. (Vice President and Managing Director of Harris & Harris Group); Jayakumar Rajadas, Ph.D. (Director of the Biomaterials and Advanced Drug Delivery Laboratory (BIOADD) at Stanford); and Andrew Merickel, Ph.D. and Esq. (Partner with Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear LLP).


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