Nanotechnology patenting trends through an environmental lens: analysis of materials and applications

TitleNanotechnology patenting trends through an environmental lens: analysis of materials and applications
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsLeitch, ME, Casman, EA, Lowry, GV
JournalJournal of Nanoparticle Research
Date Published12/2012

Many international groups study environmental health and safety (EHS) concerns surrounding the use of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs). These researchers frequently use the “Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies” (PEN) inventory of nano-enabled consumer products to prioritize types of ENMs to study because estimates of life-cycle ENM releases to the environment can be extrapolated from the database. An alternative “snapshot” of nanomaterials likely to enter commerce can be determined from the patent literature. The goal of this research was to provide an overview of nanotechnology intellectual property trends, complementary to the PEN consumer product database, to help identify potentially “risky” nanomaterials for study by the nano-EHS community. Ten years of nanotechnology patents were examined to determine the types of nano-functional materials being patented, the chemical compositions of the ENMs, and the products in which they are likely to appear. Patenting trends indicated different distributions of nano-enabled products and materials compared to the PEN database. Recent nanotechnology patenting is dominated by electrical and information technology applications rather than the hygienic and anti-fouling applications shown by PEN. There is an increasing emphasis on patenting of nano-scale layers, coatings, and other surface modifications rather than traditional nanoparticles, and there is widespread use of nano-functional semiconductor, ceramic, magnetic, and biological materials that are currently less studied by EHS professionals. These commonly patented products and the nano-functional materials they contain may warrant life-cycle evaluations to determine the potential for environmental exposure and toxicity. The patent and consumer product lists contribute different and complementary insights into the emerging nanotechnology industry and its potential for introducing nanomaterials into the environment.

Short TitleJ Nanopart Res