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Home > Press > Increasing Levels of Nanotechnology Activity in the Developing World

Significant Patent and Participative Barriers Remain

Increasing Levels of Nanotechnology Activity in the Developing World

October 20, 2005

In papers posted 19th October with the Azonano Online Journal of Nanotechnology, a researcher from the Institute for Nanoscale Technology at the University of Technology, Sydney has shown national engagement with nanotechnology research and development has now increased to 62 countries, including 19 developing countries.

However, early signs are that developing countries will direct nanotechnology R&D to 'value-add' to export markets, rather than use nanotechnology to promote sustainable development.

The considerable absence from countries with a low Human Development Index signals that the 'nano-divide' is already here and exists just as strongly within the developing world as between the 'North' and 'South'. Examples are used to demonstrate that engagement with nanotechnology R&D does not have to be capital-intensive, however, entry costs and barriers will vary from country to country.

Despite increasing levels of developing country nanotechnology R&D, patent ownership and developing country representation in international nanotechnology discussions remain key barriers to ensuring nanotechnology's benefits are widespread.

Viewing the overall picture of health-related nanotechnology patents using the esp@cenet® database, the research shows that control lies firmly with the industrialized countries of the North. However, whilst the U.S. holds a strong lead in this area, the 2004 data indicates that China is placing pressure on U.S. dominance. Ownership rests firmly with the private sector, following a relatively earlier Multinational Corporation engagement with nanotechnology than witnessed with biotechnology. The health-related research is primarily oriented towards therapeutic applications, particularly drug delivery mechanisms, with great interest in various forms of cancer and hepatitis. Many of the diseases and conditions cited in the patents hold increasing relevance for the developing world although there is a great danger in assuming that such research can, or will, be transferred.

Global participation in the development of nanotechnology policy and directions appears limited to U.S.- and European-led efforts with the notable absence of China from key international meetings. As it is currently placed, nanotechnology is in danger of replicating the inequitable trends of biotechnology with respect international participation in dialogue.

Overall, there are some encouraging signs that certain developing countries could play a significant role in the global development of nanotechnology. Yet, in light of increasing, market-based barriers and limited country participation on a number of levels, early signs are that nanotechnology will promote a greater global technological divide.

The papers may be accessed at:

Nanotechnology and Developing Countries - Part 1: What Possibilities?

Nanotechnology and Developing Countries - Part 2: What Realities?

Don Maclurcan
Institute for Nanoscale Technology
University of Technology, Sydney

Copyright © Don Maclurcan

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