I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


20 December 2014

Graphene in patents

John Colapinto has written an interesting article, "Material question", about the nature of graphene and research on its uses, in the current New Yorker (22 and 29 December 2014, 50-63).

Graphene is a an atom-thick layer of graphite which has special properties. These include the ability to transmit electrical charges 250 times more rapidly than silicon. It may be the successor material to silicon for use in electrical devices, a silicon is reaching its apparent limits as miniaturization continues. Graphene is also 150 times stronger than the equivalent amount of steel, and is the only material which is totally impermeable to gases.

It was discovered by two scientists at the University of Manchester, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. Adhesive tape was used to isolate the first ever two-dimensional material. Their paper describing it was apparently twice rejected by Nature, as being "impossible" and not a "sufficient scientific advance", according to the journal's reviewers. It was published instead in Science in October 2004 as "Electric field effect in atomically thin carbon films" [it can be read at this link] and caused much excitement among scientists. They were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010.

A report, Graphene: the worldwide patent landscape in 2013, was published by the UK Intellectual Property Office in 2013, Over 8,000 patents on the subject are covered in it, which shows that the UK is far behind in the race to develop the material -- the leading entity, the University of Manchester, has 6 patent families, which puts it at joint 163rd place, with Samsung first with 210 patent families.

Colapinto discusses in detail the work of James Tour and his colleagues at Rice University in Texas. The World patent applications by Tour for Rice in the field of carbon are listed here.

All in all, a very interesting article written for non-specialists in a fascinating field.

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