Current Issues in Patenting Nanotechnology


  • Katrin Puolakainen



The prefix nano derives from the Greek word ‘nanos’ that means dwarf. A nanometer (nm) is a unit of measurement equal to one billionth of a meter. For example, a single sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. Another commonly used example is the thickness of a human hair: one nanometer is about 1/80,000 of the diameter of the average human hair. The size of a red blood cell is around 7000 nanometers. Clearly nanotechnology refers to things on an incredibly small size scale. Nobel-prize winner Richard Feynman delivered a lecture in 1959, in which he explored the question of whether in the future it would be possible to manipulate matter at atomic level1. Feynman was the first one to introduce the idea of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale, and generally it deals with structures sized between 1 and 100 nanometers in at least one dimension. The term nanotechnology defined by the European Patent Office “covers entities with a controlled geometrical size of at least one functional component below 100 nanometers in one or more dimensions susceptible of making physical, chemical or biological effects available which are intrinsic to that size. It covers equipment and methods for controlled analysis, manipulation, processing, fabrication or measurement with a precision below 100 nanometers”.2 Because at this size scale the laws of quantum mechanics begin to affect the basic properties of matter, atoms and molecules have different properties and provide a variety of surprising and interesting uses3, for example, in the field of heat and electric conductivity and strength4. Nanotechnology has infinite possibilities and huge potential. Nanotechnology today is, for example, used in several materials to improve their qualities: the substantial structure of carbon nanotubes makes them stronger and lighter than any other composition of material. In addition, carbon nanotubes have unique electrical properties and efficient conduction of heat, which makes them potentially useful in a wide variety of applications. The somewhat futuristic belief of some experts is that nanodevices distributed throughout the brain may permit copying of thought patterns and copy a person’s personality in order to create artificial intelligence.