From the beginnings of the NNI, the "race" between the industrialized countries to develop nanotechnology was a focus point. The US NNI was seen as a catalyst for this race which spread internationally. For example, M.C. Roco authored an early, seminal article on the NNI and spoke of the US having a nanotechnology "powerhouse of discoveries and inventions" (J. Nanoparticle Research, 6: 1-10, 2004). Patenting is one measure for who is "winning" this race. Hence, ten years later, we surveyed the current set of 977 granted nanotech US patents for ten countries (the 977 nanotech patent count now stands at 6,880 as of May 2, 2011).
Following the US, Japan clearly leads the pack with 2,360 points in our counting system. S. Korea is a distant second with 665 points, and Germany comes in at number three with 565 points. A second group was Taiwan (323 points), France (294 points), Canada (277 points), and Great Britain (174 points). The third group with the fewest included China (146), Italy (94), and Australia (55).
For a snapshot "reality check," 17 new nanotech 977 patents issued this week. Based on review of the inventorship and assignee listing, the US had 9 of the 17. S. Korea had four, and Japan had two.
Some judgment is needed, of course, in patent counting. Country contributions can show up in both inventor and assignee searching. For purposes of this blog, the 977 patents were searched for inventor country and also searched separately for assignee country. One point was given for a hit in each search. For example, Japan had 1187 hits based on inventor searching and 1173 for assignee searching (giving total points of 2,360). Data were taken from the US PTO web page. Other countries should also be searched, but for now, we focused on these 10.