ETC's Report on Nanotechnology and Intellectual Property

Nanotech's "Second Nature" Patents

Twenty-five years after the biotech industry got the green light to patent life, nanotech goes after the building blocks of life.

On the 25th anniversary of Diamond vs. Chakrabarty,* the US Supreme Court's landmark decision (June 16, 1980) that opened the floodgates to the patenting of living organisms, ETC Group releases a new report, "Nanotech's 'Second Nature' Patents."

 Since Chakrabarty, the biotech industry has worked hand-in-hand with governments to allow for the patenting of all biological products - the first monopoly grab over life. Chakrabarty set the stage for today's nanotechnology patents, where the reach of exclusive monopoly is not just on life - but the building blocks of life - nanotech's 'second nature' patents," explains Hope Shand, Research Director of ETC Group.

 ETC Group's new report examines current trends in intellectual property and nanotechnology and the implications for the developing world. Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules, where size is measured in billionths of meters.

 The world's largest transnationals, leading academic labs and nanotech start-ups are all racing to win monopoly control of tiny tech's colossal market. "Control and ownership of nanotech is a vital issue for all governments and civil society because nanomaterials and processes can be applied to virtually any manufactured good across all industry sectors," said Kathy Jo Wetter of ETC Group. "Patents are being granted that cut across multiple industry sectors - a single nano-scale innovation may span pharma, food, electronics and materials alike," continues Wetter.  The US National Science Foundation predicts that nanotechnology will capture a $1 trillion dollar market within six or seven years.

ETC Group finds that breathtakingly broad nanotech patents have been granted that cut across multiple industry sectors and include sweeping claims on entire areas of the Periodic Table.  Although industry analysts assert that nanotechnology is in its infancy, "patent thickets" on fundamental nano-scale materials, tools and processes are already creating thorny barriers for would-be innovators. Claims are often broad, overlapping and conflicting - a scenario ripe for massive patent litigation battles in the future.

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