Why This Year's Physics Nobel Winner Never Patented Graphene

from the keeping-the-legal-profession-employed dept

Slashdot points us to an interview with Andre Geim, who won this year's Nobel Prize for physics for his work on graphene. As part of the interview, they asked him about patenting graphene:
You haven't yet patented graphene. Why is that?

We considered patenting; we prepared a patent and it was nearly filed. Then I had an interaction with a big, multinational electronics company. I approached a guy at a conference and said, "We've got this patent coming up, would you be interested in sponsoring it over the years?" It's quite expensive to keep a patent alive for 20 years. The guy told me, "We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it's really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us." That's a direct quote.

I considered this arrogant comment, and I realized how useful it was. There was no point in patenting graphene at that stage. You need to be specific: you need to have a specific application and an industrial partner. Unfortunately, in many countries, including this one, people think that applying for a patent is an achievement. In my case it would have been a waste of taxpayers' money.
It's certainly not an anti-patent statement (he sounds like he'd happily patent some uses of graphene), but it is illustrative of how companies view patents these days.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    abc gum, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 4:43pm

    "We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it's really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us."

    Wow - I'll bet he's a lot of fun at a party

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 4:51pm

    The quoted language is so over the top that it makes no sense, leading me to believe that it may have been made in the context of a larger conversation.

    Merely as a side note, this material appears to be somewhere near the beginning of the learning curve for product applications, and that such applications are likely so far down the road that a patent issuing on the material would expire before it could even be infringed. Hence, I am inclined to believe that chosing not to file a patent application was a good decision.

     

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    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 8th, 2010 @ 7:07pm

    In private, and "high level" as this, corporate types *do* talk like gangsters.

    I'm credit it as near verbatim, believable in private between an executive and a scientist he regarded as naive. Now and then we get peeks into the actuality.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    alatar, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 1:59am

    can't he put it in the public domain?

    That might block their plans, can't it?

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 5:12am

    So if that is how industry views patents, as little more than a bother, why so much coverage here?

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 1:46pm

      Re:

      Umm, this shows the exact opposite. This guy invents/discovers something and he gets no IP. Once the thing he discovered becomes more useful, no one will be paying him. Instead, he'll get to deal with lawyers and he doesn't have the financial backing to hold his patent up.

      This conversation illustrates a problem with patents. They don't defend individual inventors, they defend corporate interests.

      In the end though, if this guy doesn't have an application for it, what does he need IP for? Why is he entitled to the financial future of graphene without taking any more financial risk?

       

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      •  
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        Ronald J Riley (profile), Oct 10th, 2010 @ 2:15pm

        Re: Re:

        "This conversation illustrates a problem with patents. They don't defend individual inventors, they defend corporate interests."

        This is not true. Look at all the high profile cases which companies like Microsoft and Apple are losing. Solo inventors and small companies do successfully defend their patent property rights. That is why these big companies are whining about litigation. They are getting their tails kicked.

        Ronald J. Riley,

        Speaking only on my own behalf.
        President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
        Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
        Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
        President - Alliance for American Innovation
        Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
        Washington, DC
        Direct (810) 597-0194 - (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Ryan Diederich, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 5:14am

    A good quote...

    "There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."

    -Mario Savio, free speech activist. December, 1964

     

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    •  
      icon
      nasch (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 9:43am

      Re: A good quote...

      Sounds like he was inspired by Thoreau: "If the injustice is part of the necessary friction
      of the machine of government, let it go, let it go:
      perchance it will wear smooth, certainly the machine will
      wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a
      rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps
      you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the
      evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the
      agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.
      Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I
      have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the
      wrong which I condemn." From On Civil Disobedience

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 6:29am

    Wait for patents

    A few years ago I had an idea for what I thought was a very innovative software project, which I developed and which, sadly, had no market, so that was that. (or I'm a terrible salesman, take your pick).

    Early on the question of patents came up. My friends, knowing even less than I, always asked if I were patenting it. Operating on a shoestring I certainly did not want to spend any money at all that I did not have to.

    Articles like this make clear the reality I noticed then: the patent doesn't matter until money is rolling in. Early on, when my project had no track record, why would I patent? Who would ever know or care unless it went somewhere? And if I became bigger than Apple, it would be all about who could afford the lawyers, and we'd take care of it then.

    As it did not work out, I am sooooo glad I didn't waste any money trying to patent anything.

     

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    •  
      icon
      Ronald J Riley (profile), Oct 10th, 2010 @ 2:19pm

      Re: Wait for patents

      If it had worked out others would have swept in and taken your market. In that case failing to get patent(s) would have been a disaster.

      Ronald J. Riley,

      Speaking only on my own behalf.
      President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
      Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
      Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
      President - Alliance for American Innovation
      Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
      Washington, DC
      Direct (810) 597-0194 - (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      LZ7, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 6:41pm

      Re: Wait for patents

      "As it did not work out, I am sooooo glad I didn't waste any money trying to patent anything."

      That's what imagination patents are all about! Ensuring that failed businesses get to reap the benefits of successful ones.

      They wouldn't have actually worked in this capacity unless you had deep pockets or tight legal connections.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    abc gum, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 7:35am

    Obviously, patents exist for the benefit of large incumbent corporations and not small companies and individuals as claimed so often by those who promote the patent sales pitch.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Christina, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 8:51am

    graphene patenting

    Very good article!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    6 (profile), Oct 9th, 2010 @ 1:11pm

    This baby is as old as the hills.

    You guys are also missing something that this researcher was probably aware of. They're working with the material itself, they're not inventing applications for it. The material itself has been around for a very long time. See the Wiki article about it.

    "An early detailed study on few-layer graphene dates back to 1962.[12]"

    And there are other papers on the single layered graphene structures as well that are referenced in the wiki. References abound to 102b claims to the material they're using.

    The thing is, people just recently started jumping on board because some people figured out that there were some useful properties of this old material that warrented further study.

    And, like the guy told him, if the material is all that useful, then they will start cranking out applications for the various "inventions" utilizing the graphene material structure. He wasn't really being arrogant, he was telling the man what was going to happen.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 2:05pm

    Patents and graphene

    As a patent attorney, I think this is an excellent article. In spite of the Bayh-Dole act (I think I have that right), which IMO is a huge mistake, allowing patenting of something that is still pure research is a mistake. Patents should be for innovations that are being taken to market, and then they should be restricted in scope (mandatory licensing, for example, though I am not sure that is the right answer).
    Unfortunately, if the guy HAD patented graphene, and sold it to a patent troll with deep pockets, he could have made a mint (and that is just wrong!).

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 6:58pm

      Re: Patents and graphene

      I wish more patent attorneys were like you. I spoke with one, who purchased a patent for very little, that covered an entire industry. He intended to sue a small upstart which one of his clients, an alpha player, made a failed bid for the company. The company that was showing promise sold to the NPE's "former" employer and was essentially dismantled. I was personally dismayed to witness such an obvious abuse of a system that's supposed to champion the little guy. We have to come up with something other than 30 year Monopolies as incentive. The system has been hijacked by deep pockets and political corruption precludes government intervention.

      Funny thought, if a guild of thieves amasses enough wealth, they can legitimize their trade.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        nasch (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 9:46am

        Re: Re: Patents and graphene

        I was personally dismayed to witness such an obvious abuse of a system that's supposed to champion the little guy.

        Actually it's supposed to promote progress.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 5:43pm

    So, had he patented it and tried to get that company to license it, that company would have gotten hundreds of its own patents and alleged he was infringing?

    Patent nuclear war. With a huge "missile gap".

    And this is a system that's supposed to promote innovation?

     

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    •  
      icon
      Ronald J Riley (profile), Oct 10th, 2010 @ 6:05pm

      Re: Why big companies want Patent Deform

      This is why big companies want Patent Deform. They get caught stealing and hammered for willfulness and they get caught committing fraud of the patent office. Patent deform is about giving them a get out of jail card for both of these infractions and much more.

      Ronald J. Riley,

      Speaking only on my own behalf.
      President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
      Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
      Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
      President - Alliance for American Innovation
      Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
      Washington, DC
      Direct (810) 597-0194 - (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Hialos (profile), Oct 10th, 2010 @ 10:18am

    Graphene Patent

    Well, someone is trying to get a patent. http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1& amp;u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220100255984%22.PGNR.&O S=DN/20100255984&RS=DN/20100255984 Claim 1: 1. A graphene layer comprised of a two-dimensional hexagonal array of carbon atoms, the graphene layer substantially free of defects.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2010 @ 3:30pm

      Re: Graphene Patent

      Wow, that patent is so general it just attempts to patent any use that someone might find for graphene. Aren't patents supposed to be specific and have a specific applicable use? then why are these patents even worth considering?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Ronald J Riley (profile), Oct 10th, 2010 @ 3:49pm

    Unethical Transnational Corporations

    "You haven't yet patented graphene. Why is that?

    We considered patenting; we prepared a patent and it was nearly filed. Then I had an interaction with a big, multinational electronics company. I approached a guy at a conference and said, "We've got this patent coming up, would you be interested in sponsoring it over the years?" It's quite expensive to keep a patent alive for 20 years. The guy told me, "We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it's really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us." That's a direct quote."

    "I considered this arrogant comment, and I realized how useful it was. There was no point in patenting graphene at that stage. You need to be specific: you need to have a specific application and an industrial partner. Unfortunately, in many countries, including this one, people think that applying for a patent is an achievement. In my case it would have been a waste of taxpayers' money."

    Doesn't this tell how unethical big business has become?

    Ronald J. Riley,

    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
    President - Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (810) 597-0194 - (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, Oct 10th, 2010 @ 4:44pm

    Re: Patents and graphene (Gene Cavanaugh, #12)-- And the High Temperature Superconductor.

    I would second Gene Cavanaugh's comments about not patenting basic research. I have just been rereading Robert M. Hazen's _The Breakthrough: The Race for the Superconductor_ (1988, 1989). Hazen, a crystallographer at the Carnegie Institute of Washington, was a member of one of the four teams which tied for the first production of a high-temperature superconductor, a superconductor with a high enough transition temperature to be cooled by liquid nitrogen. People worked themselves into panics about who was stealing whose ideas, and employed lawyers, but in the end, nothing came of it.

    One fact which comes through is that all the participants were, in hindsight, delusional. Most of the members of the leading teams came from either IBM or the old AT&T. The first was in the process of experiencing a market crash, due to the advent of small computers. The second was in the process of being split up, and was represented in the high-temperature superconductor race by people from both Bell Labs and BellCore, the research arm of the "Baby Bells." Both IBM and the Bell family of companies would shortly reach the understanding that Nobel-grade basic science was none of their business, and that their business in a competitive market was to translate existing technology into useful products. The laboratories which produced Nobel laureates would be gutted.

    There was an enthusiasm for computers built out of Josephson Junctions, and this was supposed to be a lucrative market for superconductivity. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, there were a lot of people at IBM and AT&T who hated and feared microprocessors, and were prone to fantasize about anything which would bring back giant computers, which could conveniently have their own nitrogen-liquefaction plants.

    Likewise, the enthusiasts of superconductivity were trumpeting its uses in electric power, transportation, etc., but they were all pure physicists, pointedly removed from the grotty reality of electric power engineering or automotive engineering. The concerns of the electric power people tended to have to do with peak load and with power outages, ie. what happens if a short develops between one power cable and the ground, due to a falling tree, or (one case I heard about) a raccoon (Procyon Lotor) deciding to go exploring inside a transformer substation. Likewise, it was well known among automotive engineers that the limiting factor on an electric car was and is the battery, not the electric motor. The conventional electric motor, operating at 200-300 volts, is good enough, and that was what railroad locomotives had been using for fifty years previously.

    What it came down to was that superconductivity turned out to be a niche technology, and high-temperature superconductivity turned out to be a niche technology within superconductivity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Ronald J Riley (profile), Oct 10th, 2010 @ 6:09pm

      Re: Re: Patents and graphene (Gene Cavanaugh, #12)-- And the High Temperature Superconductor.

      This is what so called Cloud computing about, talking people into returning to dependence on large computers and paying a toll.

      Ronald J. Riley,

      Speaking only on my own behalf.
      President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
      Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
      Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
      President - Alliance for American Innovation
      Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
      Washington, DC
      Direct (810) 597-0194 - (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Nick White, Oct 13th, 2010 @ 3:59pm

    What if he had spoken to an NPE?

    The prevailing "wisdom". NPEs are the bad guys and practicing companies are the good guys.

    NPEs (Trolls) are not the problem. This story again shows that the main issue facing the patent system is the lack of a level playing field between innovative SMEs or small guys and Big Co. Because Big Co abuse the system, whereas NPEs use the system.

    I have seen this sort of issue time and again over the past 15 years or so.

    Big Co attempt to patent small guys out of the market. Three cheers for NPEs giving something back in the other direction.

    If these Nobel Prize winners had sold their IP rights to an NPE (Intelectual Ventures?) their institution would be better rewarded for the R&D effort here. There are increasing numbers of graphene patents out there but not in the hands of these guys.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    IP Strategist, Jan 4th, 2012 @ 2:52am

    Why Geim never patented graphene

    A Nature Materials article out in print yesterday discusses why Geim never patented graphene, university researcher attitudes to patents and graphene patent landscape. The article is free online for a limited time, see: http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/v11/n1/full/nmat3211.html

    The article also presents the patent networks of Samsung, Sandisk and Rice University; and a useful table of the top patent inventors with University affiliations - it is intruiging reading in light of this discussion!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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