Nanotechnology and Patents


Among the emerging technologies, nanotechnology is one of the most prominent examples and it raises high expectations in a wide range of areas affecting daily life. Nanotechnology is a science which operates at an extremely small scale, as it uses the size of a so-called nanoscale, which is approximately between 1 and 100 nanometers, or 1 to 100 billionths of a meter. There are two main ways of applying nanotechnology so far: one is the top-down approach, whereby structures are made smaller and smaller until they reach a nanometric scale. The other approach is the bottom-up approach, by which elements at the nanoscale are chosen and assembled to form some sort of matter or mechanism. This way of manipulating matter at the atomic level obviously bears the potential of enormous developments.

While commercialization of nanotechnology products so far has been relatively modest, recent and current research activities allow to forecast extraordinary results for the benefit of humankind in a foreseeable future. For example, in the area of health, achievements such as diagnostic tools penetrating (and perhaps remaining in) cells or therapeutic micro-tools directly treating ill cells from the inside can be envisaged. Extremely small electronic components allowing miniaturized and much more powerful electronic devices could be developed. New materials may be created that are more robust, lighter and thinner than existing ones, which may be of great interest in the fields of aircraft and space technology, of construction or even of clothing. In terms of protection of the environment and safeguarding energy, micro-materials and elements may allow a much more efficient and powerful use of alternative energy sources, such as the development of solar energy panels.

While inventions in the field of nanotechnology would, as a general rule, appear to qualify for patent protection, subject to the fulfillment of the relevant conditions of patentability, there are a number of issues that may need further consideration, including for example the following:

  • One problem, which is, to a certain extent, shared with a number of other emerging technologies is that the granted claims are overly broad, due at least in part to a lack of available prior art, which could allow patent holders to lock up huge areas of technology. In this context, there is also a perceived risk of overlapping patents.
  • Concerning the general conditions of patentability, the question may arise as to whether the reproduction of a known product or structure at an atomic scale would meet the requirements of novelty or, more importantly, inventive step.
  • An issue related to the previous one concerns the question of whether the rights of a patent granted on a product without specification of the size of the invention could either be considered infringed by the corresponding nanotechnology invention or form the basis for requesting royalties from the inventor of that invention.


Related Sites

The inclusion of a link to a site does not imply the agreement of WIPO, its Member States or the International Bureau with any of the views expressed on the site.

National/regional/international nanotechnology portals/websites