Anubha Sinha, a 4th year student from Dr RML National Law University, brings us her 2nd post for our SpicyIP Fellowship applicant series. In this post, she looks at the research and patents behind a fascinating new material that has been making waves in the science and technology world. After taking note of the tremendous patent activity surrounding this material in the rest of the world, she points out that Indian research centers have been left far far behind in terms of patent applications, despite important research being carried out in Indian universities. Her previous post is available here.
[Edit: Correction, Anubha is a 4th year student at Dr RML National Law University and not GNLU as previously published.]
Graphene: Caught in the eye of a patent filing storm
What is Graphene ?
Projects aiming at developing the world’s ‘thinnest materials’ have always been at the forefront of cutting edge research in science. Currently occupying this exalted position is Graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms described as the world’s thinnest material. It was initially identified by two Russian researchers in UK, which won them the Nobel Prize in 2004. “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,” reports David Shukman for the BBC News.
|How do flexible transparent
touchscreens sound to you?
What is so marvellous about it?
The potential application of graphene’s inherent properties has obviously opened up huge vistas for various technology companies. Its strength and conductivity combined with high tensility makes it rather uniquely suited for use as a semiconductor(which run every gadget you own). Graphene outstrips silicon(a standard industry semiconductor material) easily by possessing an electron mobility 200 times that of silicon. So when Samsung Electronics emerged with the biggest portfolio of graphene patents held by any R&D unit, it was not much of a surprise.
When you were marvelling at Samsung’s latest press conference unveiling the Youm display– which is the next big thing on the horizon for the smartphone and tablet industry, it was graphene actually working the magic. For the uninitiated, Youm display is the first underway commercial technology to have enabled flexible touchscreens. Touchscreens are LED displays which essentially consist of semiconductors. And graphene happens to be the best one around to lend a characteristic flexibility to LED displays.
The Patent race that has followed..
CambridgeIP reports that there has been a huge surge in graphene patent applications around the world in 2012. Moreover, the maximum number of applications has been filed from China, US and South Korea. The figures from each are country are 1500 plus published applications, whereas UK, where Graphene was first identified trails with a meagre figure of 54. Does this mean that UK has already lost the race? Experts think otherwise. Quentin Tancock (Chairman of CambridgeIP) in a recent interview said that a huge number of patents don’t necessarily translate into high quality patents, however stressed on the pressing need of the UK industry to buck up in this regard. Take note, India.
So while the world has been fanatically filing patent applications in relation to this wonder material, what have Indian inventors been up to?
This is an excellent analysis published by the British Patent Office on worldwide patent filings related to graphene. It just reiterates that there exists a direct positive correlation between the number of patents filed in a country and healthy industry-academia collaboration.
There is important research being conducted at IITs, IIScs and other universities with significant results. However, no patent application relating to graphene has yet been granted by the Indian Patents Office yet. There are six patent applications filed by IIT-M which are still pending. Only three applications made by Indian Universities have been published by the Patent Office Journal in 2012. This cuts a dismal figure in comparison to the worldwide race to grant patents and conduct R&D on the same. More alarmingly it is yet another indication of our falling standards to keep up even with our Asian neighbours in developing a rich and dynamic research community. As much as our leaders rue about the need for more research and scientific inventions to keep up with the world, it is high time policy makers formulated policies to develop industry-academia collaborations and encourage research with adequate facilities and funding at our universities. Enough said.