Among the emerging technologies that affect our daily functions, nanotechnology is at the forefront of making a huge impact in our society. Breakthroughs in nanotechnology create new materials that are more robust, lighter and thinner than existing ones, which may be of great interest in the fields of aircraft and space technology, construction, clothing, and biotechnologies. But what is nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology is the creation of machines that operate at a miniscule scale, the ‘nanoscale,’ approximately between 1 and 100 nanometers, or 1 to 100 billionths of a meter. Nanotechnology is applied to a variety of different products. What the future holds is limitless. Initially nanotechnology was used for medical purposes to prevent the growth of bacteria, germs, and fungi especially on surgical tools. Additionally, nanotechnology could potentially hold the key to future heart attack and cancer treatment by repairing or reconstructing new tissues in the human body.
Scientists and doctors are now able to not only control matter on the molecular scale, but also use it to solve problems or treat conditions that they have not been able to address before. As a result, new products can be created to meet those needs. Using nanotechnology, once sick cells are detected in human organs, new measures can be taken to replace or to cure them. For example, experts believe that nanoparticle technologies can be developed to tackle cardiovascular diseases. By using nanotechnology to diagnose and deliver drugs early and effectively to patients at risk of cardiovascular disease, this new method of treatment can assist in saving many lives.
Furthermore, nanotechnology in robotics or simply put, nanorobotics, is expanding the robotics industry. Like nanotechnology, robotics is the use of technology to design and manufacture (intelligent) machines, built for specific purposes, programmed to perform specific tasks. Nanorobotics deals with the controlled manipulation of objects with nanometer dimensions. It is concerned with construction and programming of robots with overall dimensions at the nanoscale. Nanorobots require very little energy to operate, are very durable, and can remain in operation for months, years, even decades.
Businesses, organizations, and universities are highly active in further developing new inventions in the nanotechnology world. With that said, there are number of questions and concerns for inventors when it comes to reserving protection(s) in their creations. While inventions in the field of nanotechnology would, as a general rule, appear to qualify for patent protection, there are a number of issues that would need further consideration:
One problem, to a certain extent, shared with a number of other emerging technologies is that the granted claims are overly broad. This is due at least in part to a lack of available prior art, which could allow patent holders to lock up huge areas of technology. In this context, there is also a perceived risk of overlapping patents. To set precedent and guidelines, considering how intricate developing these products are, the standard for identifying the level of specificity in creating a product needs to be addressed in every granted patent.
Is it novel? Is it an Invention?
From a general perspective of patentability, the question may arise as to whether the reproduction of a known product or structure at an atomic scale would meet the requirements of novelty or, more importantly, inventive step. Since this technology is still in the growing stage, and because these products are invented by adding atoms together, procedural requirements are key in distinguishing one invention from another.
An issue related to the previous one is related to whether the rights of a patent granted on a product without specification of the size of the invention could either be considered infringed by the corresponding nanotechnology invention or form the basis for requesting royalties from the inventor of that invention. These dimensions can vary and are very small in size. Consequently, vagueness and indefiniteness for inventors will cause challenges in protection. Especially when it comes to chemical compounds.
In addition to these concerns, issues of sustainability are also becoming well-known. Manufacturers have been using nanotechnology in their products; recent studies show that it can be harmful to the environment and our safety by increasing the level of toxicity in our sewage systems. Rivers, oceans, and bodies of water also can feel an impact to their ecosystems because of some chemicals used in nanotechnology. Thus, eventually the discharge of products made using nanotechnology could potentially hurt our agriculture as well. However, at this point in time, predicting the impacts to the environment of widespread use of nanotechnology products is complicated by uncertainties of the effects of nanotechnology on the environment.
Every development in nanotechnology brings humans a step closer to practical nanotech and nanorobot production. Nanorobots can theoretically destroy many diseases of the 20th century, thereby ending much of the pain and suffering of many illnesses that are major causes of death. Although research in this area is still in its preliminary stages, the promise of such technology is endless. Currently, there is no bright line rule to follow in terms of patent protection. Are nanotechnologies products merely “machines” and should they be treated as such from the USPTO/WIPO? What are the parameters for materials used in nanotechnology for inventors to get the best protection needed when creating new nanotechnological devices?