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March 22nd, 2005
Bright ideas, big wait on tech payback
The tech industry is famous for billion-dollar ideas. But the rewards don't always to go to the inventor. Here's some notable examples of inventions gone wrong and opportunities missed:
4. Silicon nanowires
Silicon nanowires, tiny filaments of silicon, could well become the foundational technology for the chip industry in the coming decades. The foundational patents--filed by, yes, AT&T's Bell Labs--were first issued in 1964 and expired years before a practical market could evolve.
AT&T, however, isn't the only nano pioneer that may not profit much from its inventions. NEC invented single-walled nanotubes in 1991. Although the company is actively licensing its patents, the initial ones will expire circa 2008. The nanotube industry is only just getting fired up, and the technology may not affect the electronics market until after 2010. One major semiconductor maker, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it will let the clock run out.
IBM also secured fundamental nanotube patents at about the same time.
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