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IP may be overvalued as nanotech success indicator

From Lawrence Gasman over at NanoMarkets, a thought piece on nanotech intellectual property. An excerpt: “Contrary to the beliefs of many, the pure IP model may ultimately prove hard to defend in the nanotechnology business. Nanotechnology provides a very wide range of materials and manufacturing platforms. This in turn, suggests that performance goals for nanoproducts can be achieved by very different routes. For example, in the search for high-capacity, non-volatile computer memory, a wide variety of completely different nanotechnologies are being considered – for example, thin-film magnetics for MRAM, organic electronics for polymer memory and carbon nanotubes for carbon nanotube memory. But the end goal is quite similar. Even if a firm could achieve a great leap forward in commercial memory technology using one approach and could file a fool-proof patent for its technology, there is nothing that patent could do to stop it being bested in the marketplace by another memory approach. Nanotechnology makes such an event a lot more likely to occur than in the past, since it provides many new materials from which to construct memories and hence a whole new way of getting round patents.

“If my assessment of the real future role of intellectual property in the future of nanotech turns out to be correct, then the tendency to regard protected IP as a key factor in the valuation of start-ups may be exaggerated.” Heresy! —Christine

One Response to “IP may be overvalued as nanotech success indicator”

  1. Adrian Wilkins Says:

    On the contrary, I see the proliferation of technologies designed to uphold IP rights, in conjunction with the increasingly draconian regulation being pushed into law by multinational companies, as being dangerous and counterproductive. Whether they realise it or not, they are setting up to exert a stranglehold over these technologies in the only way possible ; when you come down to it, once you have the right tools, raw materials, energy and manfacturing capital become secondary concerns and primary souce of value becomes the software.

    One can envision a future where “matterware” could either provide enormous value at little cost (as software does for those participating in the Open-Source movement), or provides an enormous monopoly on manufacturing for the few at immense cost to the rest of us (as software does for certain large desktop monopolies).

    One is a future of leisure, diversity, freedom and plenty. The other is a future of conformism and artificial scarcity.

    Even if there is more than one way to skin a particular cat, the cost of doing so is likely to impede technology development. Teams are going to have to vie for more research capital either way, and investors are less likely to want the risks of developing new ways of doing old tricks, with the pool of viable solutions to a given problem decreasing every year. Proliferation of solutions in a particular problem space may reduce costs due to competitive licensing, but there is always the risk of an oligopoly conspiring to control prices.

    In addition, the benefits are liable to be so great that I can’t really see every culture in the world toeing the line of IP law ; in this scenario, those who respect IP law are liable to be severely disadvantaged. So in a way, I agree with the precept that IP is overvalued as a success indicator, just not for the same reasons.

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