Friday, January 01, 2010

Top Ten Nanotechnology Patents of 2009

Here is a list of the U.S. nanotechnology patents issued over the past year that appear to me to be the most commercially valuable and/or interesting:

#10 - US Patent 7,535,070 - Reconfigurable spin wave computer (University of California)

Reconfigurable computing architectures are becoming more popular in order to combine the flexibility of software with the speed of hardware. This appears to be a basic patent to implementing reconfigurable computing using spintronics.

#9 - US Patent 7,599,895 - Nanoparticle synaptic switch (KnowmTech)

Neuromorphic computing has attracted funding from DARPA's SyNAPSE project in the last year with contracts awarded to IBM, Hewlett Packard, and HRL. This patent appears basic to some of the proposed approaches to physical neural networks which use a plasticity mechanism.

#8 - US Patent 7,494,638 - Purified fullerene (Mitsubishi)

Fullerene is a form of carbon originally discovered in 1985 and which was the prelude to carbon nanotubes. This patent may turn out to be one of the most controversial nanotechnology patents yet issued in that the claims are broadly directed to purified fullerene and may be considered a submarine patent with priority going back to 1990.

#7 - US Patent 7,486,434 - Carbon nanotube optical antenna (Ambit Corp.)

The electromagnetic conversion properties of carbon nanotubes have received increasing research interest in the past few years. Ambit Corporation was an earlier innovator in this area and this patent represents one of of their more basic patents covering applications in optical communications and RF tags.

#6 - US Patent 7,543,638 - Nanoparticle enhanced oil recovery (Schlumberger Technology)

In order to delay the effects of peak oil more efficient oil extraction methods will be required. This patent is basic to a method using nanoparticle catalysts to achieve enhanced oil recovery at relatively low temperature.

#5 - US Patent 7,626,190 - Memristor nanowire transistor (Infineon Technologies AG)

In 2008 Hewlett-Packard announced the development of memristors (memory resistors) as a new type of non-volatile memory called RRAM which appears as a front runner to compete with flash. This patent goes a step further and teaches integrating memristive material with a nanoscale transistor.

#4 - US Patent 7,615,204 - Long nanotube strands (RPI, Tsinghua University)

This patent is based on a collaboration between US and Chinese universities and covers nanotubes having a length greater than 10 cm which may provide a new source for building materials in the 21st century and make projects such as the space elevator a little bit more feasible.

#3 - US Patent 7,569,252 - Dip Pen Nanolithography® (Northwestern University)

For the past decade NanoInk has been developing a fundamentally new lithography technique having applications ranging from the repair of masks used in semiconductor fabrication to the development of nanoscale bioassays. This patent covers the basic process developed by Chad Mirkin back when the technique was developed at Northwestern University.

#2 - US Patent 7,605,328 - CIGS nanoparticle photovoltaics (Nanosolar)

Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) is a material used to manufacture thin film solar cells which are becoming increasingly important as a source of alternative energy. Nanosolar has developed a manufacturing system using nanoparticle precursor material and relatively low temperature process steps which lower cost and increase yield of production.

#1 - US Patent 7,619,257 - Graphene transistor (Alcatel-Lucent)

For over 50 years silicon has been the active material for transistor design. However, nanotechnology typically relies on carbon as the basic material of choice. Graphene is a form of carbon which may eventually displace silicon's dominance by offering higher electron mobility and less susceptibility to noise. This patent includes some basic claims covering epitaxially grown graphene field effect transistors.