I noted several things recently which seem to connect:  (i) a patent of great interest to me finally issued from the US PTO related to an important (to me) carbon nanotube (CNT) application, (ii) many of the PTO's class 977 nanotech patents seem to relate to carbon nanotubes, and (iii) Nanowerk is listing an updated study on the carbon nanotube industry and how it has grown.  So I investigated these connections an ounce.

The US PTO now has granted 7,304 class 977 nanotech patents and, of these, 1,293 (18%)mention carbon nanotube or carbon nanotubes in the abstract or claims.  That is remarkable.

The boom in 977 CNT patenting, based on patent grant dates, apparently started first in 2001  and then accelerated again more recently.  One can identify four stages.  In stage 1, which is up to 2000, the PTO was granting only ten or fewer CNT patents a year.  Then, a transition stage, stage 2 appeared where the number rapidly increased.  By 2004, the PTO was granting over 100 977 CNT per year.  Stage 3 comprises 2004-2009, wherein the PTO granted 85-146 CNT 977 patents per year.  Now, a fourth stage is here.  In 2010, the PTO granted 225 CNT 977 patents, and in 2011, the projected number is 221 (as of patents through October 18).  In other words, in ten short years, the PTO went from granting fewer than ten 977 CNT patents per year to over 200 per year.  Note, US and PCT patent publications should also be reviewed for more insight on this important trend.

That is remarkable.  An industry was born.  One important way to analyze nanotechnology commercialization is to focus on the platform materials, and carbon nanotubes would seem to lead the way.  Will graphene be next?

In recent Congressional testimony, panelists were asked for examples of blockbuster developments in nanotech.  Carbon nanotubes clearly are one answer.  Moreover, many applications are in the cleantech space including lithium ion batteries.  The prime application, however, is currently in plastics and composites, per the Nanowerk article.