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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Magda Carvalho PhD, JD > Nanorobotics out of DNA and patentability

Magda Carvalho
Patent Attorney
Patent Law at M. Carvalho

Scientists have been building nanorobotics out of DNA. Recently, scientists have expanded DNA nanorobotics from "walking nanorobots" to "cargo nanorobots" and have create a system that promotes their interaction. However, lack of practical utility has being the basis for rejection of some patent applications.

January 24th, 2011

Nanorobotics out of DNA and patentability

Scientists have been harnessing deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) potential to create several breeds of DNA nanorobots into sophisticated nanodevices. The problem of getting DNA to move on its own seems to be on the way of being deciphered. Although, the technology is very appealing and some patents have been registered, other patent applications have raised patentability issues because the invention's utility (35 U.S.C. 112Section 101) is speculative and/or their written description (35 U.S.C. 112) is not enabling.

Patent number 7163794 for Nucleic Acid Based Nano-Robotic System shows a functional nanotechnology device within a DNA array. It is an example of a patent that overcome patentability issues. The invention involves nano-robotics that move along a molecular path. This system is made of a multiped and a molecular path. The feet of the multiped is comprised of a sequence specific nucleic acid end and each of which is joined to one other foot on the multiped by a tether. The molecular path is made of sequence specific nucleic acid footholds disposed along the path and onto which each foot of the multiped docks in the presence of a sequence specific nucleic acid set molecule that attaches by cohesion to both the sequence specific nucleic acid end of a foot and the sequence specific nucleic acid foothold. The foot is released from the foothold when a sequence specific nucleic acid unset molecule is introduced which detaches or strips away the set molecule from its cohesion to the foot and foothold.

Patent application number 10/613363 for Movement of Multi-Enzimatic Nano-Assembles on Recognition Landscapes uses a cutting method to get the nanorobots to move on their own. The nanomachine is comprised of a body and catalytic legs having nucleic acids, the assembly is adapted to move around a layer of feed oligonucleotide fuel substrate molecules wherein each catalyic leg recognizes and binds to a fuel substrate, cleaves the fuel substrate and searches for a new fuel substrate. The fuel molecules may be arranged to provide a gradient, whereby the assembly travels along the gradient. Here, the Examiner issued a final rejection for lack of utility (Section 101) and lack of an adequate written description (Section 112). The Examiner found that the invention's utility was speculative or the invention provided for generic applications. Besides, the Examiner stated that one skilled in the art clearly would not know how to use the invention (failure to comply with Section 112).

Patent application number 11/985046 for System and Method for Collective Nanorobotics for Medical Applications deals with epigenetic robotics applied to collectives of nanorobots. Specifically, the invention relates to nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), nanomechatronics and bionanomechatronics. The invention also deals with the coordination of collectives of nanorobots, synthetic nanorobotics and synthetic bionanorobotics, including synthetic assemblies of NEMS and nanorobots and synthetic nano-scale and micron-scale machine assembly processes. The application describes the use of these systems and processes in the medical field. Here, the Examiner has issued a final rejection for lack of adequate written description (Section 112, unburden experimentation) and lack of utility (Section 101). The Examiner found that the application extensively describes possible functions of nanorobots and ways in which they me be operated but does not provide any description of the nanorobots themselves. The Examiner pointed out that the established art teaches that the field of nanorobots are decades away from development.

In summary, despite the breakthroughs, scientists are still challenged in engineering these nanorobots to coordinate their motion and interactions in a practical use.

Please send your comments to Magda Carvalho at

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