Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Graphene could find uses in computing, energy, medicine and other fields
A surge in research into the novel material graphene reveals an intensifying global contest to lead a potential industrial revolution.

Latest figures show a sharp rise in patents filed to claim rights over different aspects of graphene since 2007, with a further spike last year.

China leads the field as the country with the most patents.

The South Korean electronics giant Samsung stands out as the company with most to its name.

Only identified in 2004, graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms making it the thinnest material ever created and offering huge promise for a host of applications from IT to energy to medicine.

Flexible touchscreens, lighting within walls and enhanced batteries are among the likely first applications.

Early work on graphene by two Russian scientists at the University of Manchester, Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novosolev, earned them a shared Nobel Prize in 2010 and then knighthoods.

The material - described as being far stronger than diamond, much more conductive than copper and as flexible as rubber - is now at the heart of a worldwide contest to exploit its properties and develop techniques to commercialise it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced further funding for graphene research last month, bringing the total of UK government support to more than £60m.

But the tally of patents - an essential first step to turning a profit from a substance still based in the lab - shows how intense the worldwide competition has become.

According to new figures from CambridgeIP, there were 7,351 graphene patents and patent applications across the world by the end of last year - a remarkably high number for a material only recognized for less than a decade.

Of that total, Chinese institutions and corporations have the most with 2,200 - the largest number of any country and clear evidence of Chinese determination to capitalise on graphene's future value.

The US ranks second with 1,754 patents. 

The UK, which kickstarted the field with the original research back in 2004, has only 54 - of which 16 are held by Manchester University.

UK science minister David Willetts, who has identified graph

Artist's impression of graphene sheet
  • Graphene is a form of carbon that exists as a sheet, one atom thick

  • Atoms are arranged into a two-dimensional honeycomb structure

  • Discovery of graphene announced in 2004 by the journal Science

  • About 100 times stronger than steel; conducts electricity better than copper

  • Touted as possible replacement for silicon in electronics

  • About 1% of graphene mixed into plastics could make them conductive
It's the classic problem of Britain inventing something and other countries developing it.

Most striking of all the figures is that the South Korean electronics giant Samsung leads the corporate field with an immense total 407 patents. America's IBM is second with 134.
Andre GeimProf Geim says many Western companies lack the ability to pursue research

The chairman of CambridgeIP, Quentin Tannock, told the BBC: "There's incredible interest around the world - and from 2007 onwards we see a massive spike in filings all over the world particularly in the USA Asia and Europe."

But he warned that despite the British government's support, there was a serious risk that the UK may lose out.

Britain has got a reputation for being very canny, having very good inventors, so the race isn't over.

But my concern is that in Britain there isn't an appreciation of just how competitive the race for value in graphene is internationally, and just how focused and well-resourced our competitors are.

And that leads to a risk that we might underinvest in graphene as an area and that therefore we might look back in 20 years' time with hindsight and say 'that was wonderful, we got a lot of value, but we didn't get as much as we should have done'."

David Shukman

1 comment:

Bill Courtney said...

Whoops we made a mistake!

The Nobel Prize winning graphene research at Manchester University was brilliant, but our failure to file patents before the first graphene research paper was published has led us into THE PATENT TRAP.

This trap is likely to result in British and other European taxpayers funding future graphene research but multinationals based outside Europe gaining the commercial benefits.

The patent trap is explained at