Background: Technology experts foresee that nanotechnology is the next industrial revolution
and it has great potential to bring solutions to many challenges of global relevance in terms of a diverse
range of applications. Efficiency-driven economies are transforming into innovation-driven economies
where Intellectual Property (IP) plays a pivotal role in achieving a competitive advantage. Whereas industry
analysts assert that IP roadblocks will be a severe detriment to the development of nanotechnology due
to infringements and high-profile patent battles. Various authors have made a significant effort to analyse
the implications of IP on nanotechnology but most of the published literature covers only the years 2000-
2010. Data and insights pertaining to recent developments are lagging behind. Therefore, the objective of
this review was to explore cutting-edge empirical evidence towards emerging trends of Intellectual Property
protection in nanotechnology, thereby to provide insights aimed at unleashing the full potential of nanotechnology
innovation for socio-economic advantage.
Materials and Methods: Patent information over the period 2000 to 2018 was collated and analysed to determine
the latest trends. To gain a global perspective, nanotechnology patents issued by the United States
Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and nanotechnology patents published in the ‘PatentScope’ of the
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) were surveyed along with literature in relation to nanotechnology
commercialization and litigation.
Results: Our study revealed that worldwide protection of Intellectual Property in nanotechnology has
steadily been increasing year-on-year accounting 3.3 million patent applications filed in 2018 in which
China and U.S. are dominating. The other main contributors are Japan, Germany Republic of Korea,
France and U.K. Asia has emerged as the single region to file more than half of total filings for the first
time thus shifting global IP landscape from Europe to Asia. Another notable finding is that there is a significant
growth in trademark registration in many of the leading economies. Top five technology fields with
high international patenting activity are computer technology, medical technology, digital communication,
electrical machinery and pharmaceuticals where computer technology is dominating. More than 90% of
the total patents are granted on materials, devices and processes developed as basic building blocks of nanotechnology
at laboratory level which sound as more downstream innovations in the short-term. Amid the
upward trends in nanotechnology patenting, newly emerging obstacles pose risks to innovation. A key
finding of the present study is that the increasing trend of patent litigation almost follows the same path of
patent grants indicating a positive correlation. A global prominence of middle-income and low-income
countries in patent filing is yet to emerge which foreshadows an IP divide.
Discussions: A secondary market for patent assets is pronounced with many new types of players leading
to a high cost of patenting nanotechnology. These trends foreshadow a surge of patent filings in the years
to come and the patent offices will be confronted with that ‘surge’ of patent applications of increased complexity
and multidisciplinary nature.Patent offices with inadequate efficacy will ultimately produce lowquality
patents along with a difficulty to enter into markets and will facilitate exploiting of the IP legal systems
to extract rewards for infringement without contributing to innovation or social prosperity of nations.
Conclusion: Insights and recommendations given in this paper will enable nanotechnology researchers,
inventors, technopreneurs and investors to understand recent trends and global perspectives on implications
of IP in nanotechnology and intensifying IP battle thereby to contemplate and succeed in their
roadmaps towards leveraging on nanotechnology.