UK: The Nanotechnology Revolution: Getting The Intellectual Property Right

Last Updated: 12 March 2018
Article by Mash-Hud Iqbal

The internet of things (IoT) is set to revolutionise our working and personal lives, bringing ever more devices into an intelligent, global network that promises everything from kettles that learn your daily routine to cities which optimise the flow of traffic and people. Nanotechnology will be key to this, allowing for the proliferation of technologies such as smart surfaces that can be applied to almost anything and nanoparticles which will underpin next generation electronic devices.

Given the global race to be at the forefront of these developments, it’s encouraging to see investments being made in the UK’s nanotechnology sector, such as that announced by the University of Surrey recently. The new hub at the University of Surrey aims to bring together researchers to boost the UK’s smart device revolution and radically reducing the cost of manufacturing IoT devices. This and other initiatives, such as the recent opening of high specification facilities for the fabrication of optoelectronic devices at the Cambridge Graphene Centre, shows there is significant momentum behind graphene research in the UK.  Emerging technologies rely upon those with the vision to invest in them so initiatives such as this are to be welcomed.

Unlocking success in the nanotechnology market requires more than just ideas and investments however; also key is intellectual property (IP). For many businesses, IP is assumed to consist simply of filing patents and trade marks and its wider potential is easily ignored. Developing a robust IP strategy however can be key to the success or failure of a business, especially one that deals with an emerging technology such as nanotech.

As with any significant new technology, nanotechnology raises important IP questions. How to classify these new technologies for example, and will the reproduction of products developed at the atomic scale meet current IP requirements such as novelty and inventive step?

While there are difficult questions to be answered, the fact that some branches of nanotechnology (for example, Graphene) are highly emergent also presents significant opportunities. If the next generation of nanotech gurus can get the IP right then the limited availability of ‘prior art’ in the field – pre-existing knowledge that might limit the scope of a patent in a more established industry – can allow broad monopoly protection covering not only the patentee’s business, but also valid, relevant monopolies in ancillary, non-competing industries. Such opportunities can form the basis of lucrative licensing based revenue streams with little risk posed to the patentee’s original business.

The flip side of this is the potential for overlapping patents and litigation. As such, well drafted IP will be key to protecting innovation in this space and investing in it early on can bring significant rewards down the line.

So, what is IP?

IP comes in many forms ranging from the well-known such as patents, trade marks and copyright, to the less well-known such as know-how, database rights and integrated circuit topography rights. Some of these IP rights exist automatically and for free. Others will need to be registered and the process of doing so can be complicated, requiring a patentee to get to the ‘essence’ of their innovation. Getting the right balance of IP will very much depend on each businesses individual needs.

Patents will likely be the top of the IP agenda for those working within the nanotech field. Patents are used to protect novel devices and technologies. Capturing the essence of what makes an invention novel however, and translating that into a successful patent application can be challenging. Wider than this however, formulating a world-wide patent filing strategy will also be necessary. This will raise key questions about where to file and when and the answers here will very much depend on an individual business. Getting good IP advice early on however will ensure that the right course is charted.  

Design rights too will be crucial for protecting the particular shape or appearance of future devices which rely on nanotechnology. Similarly, for a simple integrated circuit design, integrated circuit topography rights could be considered in certain countries.

Another key area of IP for enterprises in any field is trade marks. Trade marks are widely used to help protect the identities and values of countless products and companies in every conceivable sector of the economy. Trade marks define a business in the public space, giving credibility to its products and embodying its reputation. Even high-tech products such as smartphones, which are designed and built upon patents, have significant trade marks which are crucial to their success. Technologies that nanotech gives rise to will similarly be defined in the public realm by their trade marks, and the reputation those marks symbolise – ensuring they are protected will be vital. 

Then there is data, what many are calling the ‘new oil’. Database rights are one of the lesser known forms of IP but can be highly valuable and could apply if there has been a "substantial investment" in obtaining, verifying or presenting the contents of a database. Given the wide ranging applicability of nanotechnology in the fields of medicine and computing, protecting and exploiting the IP inherent in data could be a key consideration for businesses emerging in this space.

There is a lot to consider for businesses looking to shape the future of the UK’s nanotech and IoT industry. Getting the IP right will ensure that it is the innovators who are rewarded, rather than the imitators. If entrepreneurs and companies build IP into business strategy early on, they will be well placed to capitalise on the enormous potential promised by nanotech, and put the UK at the forefront of this emerging field.

This article first appeared in Internet of Business.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions