Nanotechnology: building materials and devices by controlling matter at the atomic and molecular level. An interdisciplinary field with far-reaching applications. Monica Patel explores five particularly interesting patents in this area...

It may appear that commercialisation of nanotechnology solutions has been relatively modest to date; however, a range of solutions has been developed in key areas such as materials science, medicine, information processing, magnetism, and analysis of nanostructures. Effective commercialisation relies on obtaining protection for the solution through patent rights. A patent is a legal right enabling the owner to stop others from making use of the patented invention without permission. When filing an application for a patent, applicants must in return disclose the details of the solution and how the invention works. To demonstrate some of the problems that have been solved in recent years, here is a selection of 5 patented inventions in nanotechnology:

Synthesis of metal oxide nanocrystals by Pixelligent

Pixelligent pursued worldwide patent protection for its method of preparing capped colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals and their dispersions in polymeric solutions and films, and has recently been granted a patent in Europe (EP 2 560 916 B1). This example represents just one particular application of nanotechnology in materials science. The claimed method of making the nanocrystals involves dissolving at least one precursor of the nanocrystals in a solvent, heating the solution to a temperature in the range of 250°C to 350°C and maintaining the solution at a set temperature to allow formation of the hafnium oxide or zirconium oxide nanocrystals. The resulting semiconductor nanocrystals are highly monodisperse with a nanocrystal size between 1 nm and 10 nm. These nanocrystals can be deployed in various electronics devices such as OLED and microLED displays, 3D sensors, lighting, as well as virtual reality and augmented reality applications.

Light responsive quantum dot drug delivery system by Nanoco


Serving as an example of an application of nanotechnology in medicine, US patent owned by Nanoco Technologies describes compositions for delivery of drugs to desired tissues via soluble quantum dots (US 10,610591 B2).

The claimed quantum dot (QD) drug delivery system comprises a water-soluble QD nanoparticle including a core semiconductor material or a core/shell semiconductor material and an outer layer. A drug molecule is located within the outer layer and is releasable from the outer layer upon excitation of the QD nanoparticle.

Quantum nanowire devices by Intel

Quantum computing relates to computer systems that use quantum mechanical phenomena to manipulate data. Essentially, this involves formation of QDs to serve as quantum bits ("qubits") in a quantum computing device, as well as the control of these QDs to perform quantum logic operations. Nanotechnology in quantum computing provides an example of nanotechnology for applications in information processing, storage or transmission.

An International patent application by Intel seeks to protect an improved quantum computing device using nanowires (WO 2018/164656 A1). Unlike some previous approaches to QD formation, the invention provides strong spatial localisation of the QDs, and therefore better control over QD manipulation, enhanced electro-static control over QD formation, and design flexibility in making electrical connections to integrate the QD devices into larger computing devices.

Magnetically controllable composite photonic materials by University of California

Recently granted in the US, a US patent by the University of California describes composite photonic materials that incorporate magnetic nanoparticles inside hollow or solvent-filled shells that may exhibit colour changes in a transition between the absence and presence of a magnetic field (US 10, 662, 066 B2). When these photonic materials are present in a magnetic field, they exhibit a change in reflected, scattered, and/or transmitted light as compared to when the materials are not in the presence of the magnetic field. This results in the materials appearing to have a different colour. The colour changes may then be imparted to other objects, such as by incorporating the composite photonic material as a pigment in paint which would allow any object painted with the paint to exhibit colour changing properties. Further applications include pigmented ceramics, pigmented polymers and pigmented glass.

This particular example is most interdisciplinary in nature and spans the fields of nano-optics, nano-magnetism and nanomaterials.

High throughput SEM and AFM for characterisation of nanostructured devices by Nanowear

The field of nanotechnology also extends into the measurement and analysis of nanostructures. Nanowear's US patent in high throughput scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) for characterisation of nanostructured devices provides an example of a patented device in the field of analysing nano-structures (US 10, 714, 310 B2). The US patent claims a method involving providing an SEM image of a nanosensor sample including a plurality of vertically free-standing nano structures, AFM imaging a top portion of a selection of the nano structures and creating an overlaid image including an AFM imaged top portion overlayed on the SEM image.

Originally published 23.08.2021

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