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How the UK risks missing out in graphene economy


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 17 Jan 2013 at 10:45

Britain has been at the forefront of research into graphene, but research reveals that the UK is trailing other countries in numbers of patents in the much-hyped wonder-material.

According to tech strategy firm CambridgeIP’s research, Chinese organisations lead the global race to snap up potentially valuable patents for technologies that use or exploit the carbon-based material that was first in extracted in the UK in 2004, landing the University of Manchester researchers a Nobel Prize.

I am concerned that graphene researchers and companies in the UK understand what their global competitors

At the time of CambridgeIP’s study in December 2012, Chinese entities had published 2,204 graphene-related patents, while US players took 1,754 patents published. South Korean organisations staked a claim to 1,160 technologies, while British researchers trailed behind with 54 published patents.

Does the UK now risk losing out in what could be a lucrative technology, particularly in computing, in the coming decades? We spoke to CambridgeIP chairman Quentin Tannock to find out.

Q. Do these results mean that UK players are losing the race to maintain their lead position in graphene?

A. Before talking of players, one distinction that should be drawn is between types of players. For example, it is difficult for a university to compete on commercialising technology with companies whose entire existence is devoted to such commercialisation.  

It would be unfair to make a comparison between the graphene R&D centre at Manchester University and the graphene R&D centre at Samsung on the basis of numbers of graphene patents filed – and to conclude that the UK player is ‘losing out’ as it has less patents. 

The primary objective of Manchester University is to disseminate knowledge whilst the primary objective of Samsung Electronics is to make a profit.

However, when you look at the UK as a whole – including universities and companies - and look at another country as a whole, like China or South Korea, some comparisons are possible. Taking the UK and China as comparative examples we see many more graphene patents filed in China than in the UK. A large volume of patents doesn't equal quality, of course, and the UK has a well-deserved reputation for having excellent researchers and effective innovators, not only in graphene, but in a wide range of research areas.  

The UK hasn't lost the race for value from graphene, but I am concerned that graphene researchers and companies in the UK [need to] understand what their global competitors are doing and how very active they are – some appear to be making a ‘land grab’ for areas of the graphene patent landscape. The UK will miss out if players in the UK don't take this very, very seriously.

Q. Is there a need for more collaboration between businesses and academia?

A. Definitely. Professor Andre Geim [one of the UK-based Nobel Prize winners for graphene] commented in a BBC interview recently on the gap between business and academia in the UK.  Closing the gap may take additional resources and funding, but should improve knowledge transfer from academia to industry and, importantly, from industry to academia.

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User comments

Graphene or Silicene?

It's starting to look more like Silicene will dominate rather than Graphene given it's much easier to adopt with the current silicon based infrastructure.

By skarlock on 17 Jan 2013


Lots of patents published (are all the numbers above related to published patents or patents going through various stages of examination?) are great but the costs to file and maintain these patents are significant. Also how many of these patents will have any real value? My worry with graphene is it ends up being like the fullerenes, i.e. huge interest at the beginning but the commercial exploitation (so far) hasn't happened.

By russell_g on 17 Jan 2013

According to the Royal Academy of Engineers, we have roughly 23,000 engineers who graduate each year. In comparison, China has around half a million engineers graduating each year, and India about half that number.

It doesn’t help that our children are being dumbed down with this “Just Works” culture (soon many possibly won’t be able to plug a micro-USB cable in, as it only fits one out of a possible two ways, nevermind being forced to tinker with config.sys and autoexec.bat files each time they want to play a new game!), and a terrible message is being conveyed when arty and cosmetic issues are worth more in billion-dollar law suits than real technical or scientific patents.

Will Samsung’s 407 graphene patents be worth the millions they spend in scientific R&D (or IBM’s 134 patents, for that matter, in second place)? Or should they simply sit back and claim FRAND and pour money into making pretty designs and a software gallery bounce nicely?

By TheHonestTruth on 17 Jan 2013

Another reason to bash the UK as negatively as possible....

Had better link to this: and also this ....

By formula_86 on 17 Jan 2013

Plenty Of Life Left In UK

From my understanding of the graphene industry in the UK I would say that there remains plenty of innovation deserving of applause. Sure the patents landscape looks skewed but, as the article suggests, quality is the deciding factor. With graphene the discussion isn't only whether it will be used to improve computing but also its potential in composites, energy production and storage, medicine, etc. Lets continue to invest in the industry, push for more governmental support, collaborate with businesses and all will be fine.

More here.

By ghemmings on 18 Jan 2013

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