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    IP Model Proposed For North-South Nanotechnology Divide

    Published on 19 November 2008 @ 10:40 am

    Intellectual Property Watch

    By Wagdy Sawahel for Intellectual Property Watch
    Developing countries need to pool resources to ensure access to scientific and technical knowledge about nanotechnology in order to narrow the “nano-divide” – similar to the digital and genomics divides – resulting from the implications of nanotech-related intellectual property rights on monopoly practices, technology transfer and trade, according to experts.

    Nanotechnology is at the junction of chemistry, physics, biology, computer science and engineering and is descriptively known as molecular manufacturing that involves the design, modelling, fabrication and manipulation of materials and devices at the atomic scale.

    According to a 2004 report [pdf] entitled, “Nanoscience and nanotechnologies:
    opportunities and uncertainties” published by two UK bodies, the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, applications of nanotechnology are expected to revolutionise science and society through the nano-scale manufacture of materials, components, machines and ultra-small devices especially in the field of medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, manufacturing, materials science, aerospace, information technology, and telecommunications.

    The report is available from the Council of Canadian Academics here.

    As the applications of nanotechnology have potential benefits for the developing world, the United Nations Millennium Project’s task force on science, technology and innovation identifies nanotechnology as an important tool for addressing poverty and achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals. These applications include cheap sustainable energy, better methods for disease diagnosis and treatment, cleaning polluted water, enzyme biosensors that can monitor soil or crop toxicity, and ‘nano-magnets’ that can clean up oil spills by attracting oil.

    But “nanotechnology could also have destructive impact on developing countries’ economies,” Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, former president of Alexandria’s Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications, told Intellectual Property Watch.

    Abdel Al said nanotechnology could produce new and cheap materials replacing traditional materials and natural resources and lead to disrupting the trade of commodity-dependent developing countries.

    IP and the Nano-Divide

    According to a 2005 report from the Canadian action group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC group) entitled “Nanotech’s ‘Second Nature’ Patents: implications for the global South,” the world’s largest trans-national companies, leading academic laboratories nanotech start-ups from the north especially the United States, Japan and Europe, are aggressively seeking intellectual property on nanotech’s novel materials, devices and manufacturing processes. This will play a major role in deciding who will capture nanotech’s trillion-dollar market as well as who will gain access to nano-scale technologies.

    Stanford Law School researcher Mark Lemley said in a 2005 study entitled “Patenting Nanotechnology” that “…patents will cast a larger shadow over nanotech than they have over any other modern science at a comparable stage of development.”

    Silvia Ribeiro, from ETC Group’s Mexico City office, told Intellectual Property Watch that “IP regimes are a key factor in the North-South technology divide, and this applies even more to nanotechnology.”

    Abdel Al added that with China constituting the bulk of patents from the South, the divide is not just between the North and South, it extends within the South.

    A 2003 study carried out by the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto [pdf] and entitled “Mind The Gap’: science and ethics in nanotechnology,” divided developing nations that have made substantial investments in nanotechnology research and development into three categories: ‘front-runners’ (China, India and South Korea); ‘middle ground’ (Chile, Brazil, Philippines and Thailand), and ‘up and comers’ (Argentina and Mexico).

    “IP, properly managed, need not enlarge the divide,” said Richard Gold, professor of intellectual property and President of the Innovation Partnership told Intellectual Property Watch. “Poorly managed, such as if patents are used to hoard knowledge and impair sharing can, however, have a severe negative impact.”

    Strategy for Reducing the Nano-Divide

    Gold, a member of the expert panel on nanotechnology for the Council of Canadian Academies, said that “at this point, there are few products and services incorporating nanotechnology on the market so it is too early to determine exactly the shape and significance of the divide. All we can do is to be proactive in both monitoring the situation and in building the collaborations that will make such a divide less likely.”

    Gold said that “as nanotechnology is still in a relatively embryonic state of development, with few products and services on the market and few companies actually moving products to market, governments need to focus on facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge.”

    To achieve this, he said, governments need to ensure access to scientific information, such as through open access science journals and the means to access that information, like high speed internet, participation in international conferences, collaborations with world-leading institutions and trained scientists with quality scientific laboratories and equipments.

    Gold said that the focus should be on infrastructure and collaborative mechanisms – particularly among universities – both on the science itself and on training doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows.

    These collaborations should occur at the national, regional and international levels, he said. “Few middle- and lower-income countries – large middle-income countries such as China being the exception – have the capacity themselves to advance nanotechnology in a significant way,” Gold said.

    Collaborations between regional centres of excellence and local industry offer the greatest hope, he added. Institutions “must develop IP policies that promote sharing among each other, with industry and outside collaborations. Investments will be needed in connecting people and managing resources across multiple institutions.”

    Gold added that regional and international approaches also will be needed to provide funding for this work. “Some countries will have the ability to carry on this research themselves, but many if not most will not. By pooling resources, they increase their chances of participating in nanotechnology research and, subsequently, social and business opportunities that may arise from this.”

    Gold called on industry to take leadership in developing an independent and non-profit technology assessment body.

    “I believe that such a body could be useful as developing countries start producing products and services that should be financed and supported,” he said. “If the technology is objectively seen to work well and meet an important need – which would be what the assessment body would be mandated to review – this should help attract financing and attract those who can build the social and business models to disseminate the product or service.”

    Wagdy Sawahel may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch

     


    Leave a Reply

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

    9. These terms and your posts and contributions shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Switzerland (without giving effect to conflict of laws principles thereof) and any dispute exclusively settled by the Courts of the Canton of Geneva.

     

     
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