A recent report points out that while many European market industries are 'missing the boat' on nanotechnology, large cosmetic companies such as L'Oreal are emerging as market leaders in the use of the technology.
The report by Marks & Clerk, a leading firm of patent and trademark attorneys, looks at worldwide patent activity in the fields of nanoelectronics, nanoenergy and nanotechnology in health and personal care, confirms that the European market is falling behind the US and Far East in terms of the growth of patent applications.
However, bucking this trend, it is cosmetic companies that are largely driving the patent application process, dominated by the likes of large companies such as L'Oreal, that are significantly impacting the number of applications in France, home of the cosmetics giant.
L'Oreal has emerged triumphant with a total of 15 patent families in comparison to significantly lower figures from the likes top corporations such as Elan Corp (12) and The Government of United States of America (7).
Rhian Granleese, partner at Marks & Clerk and co-author of the report said "To date, cosmetics has been a big driver for developments in nanotechnology in health and personal care. But with an ever ageing population and significant drug patents expiring, we expect the major pharmaceutical companies to look closely at the nanomedicine market, both in terms of trying to reformulate their blockbusters in order to extend market exclusivity, and to look at completely new therapeutic regimes and processes."
Nanotechnology, which deals with controlling matter at near-atomic scales to produce unique or enhanced materials, products and devices, has been touted as the next revolution in many industries, including cosmetics and packaging.
The report went on to conclude that despite Europe having stronger representation in the nanotechnology field in the health and personal care sector, the US and Far East, are also dominant in this area.
Europe is represented by Germany which has filed for 38 patents and France which filed for 32 and applications to the European Patent Office. In comparison to the US, 380, followed by China and Japan who filed 147 and 41 respectively.
The report states that there has been a record amount of investment in research in the European market, in particular from public funding.
According to the Nanosciences and Nanotechnology Unit in the European commission, despite the total R&D spenditure being significantly less than the US and China in 2004, Europe did, however, gain funding from the European public purse, exceeding that of the US and the Far East.
Due to this significant public investment, there has been cause for concern at the decreased patent applications in the European market.
"Some estimates predict that the value of the nanotechnology-related product and services market will exceed $1 trillion by 2015, but European institutions and companies may be foregoing their claim to commercial returns by not filing patents on their research." Granleese stated.
It has been suggested that this is due to some companies not maximising the 'potential value of their research', do not fully understand the benefits of Nanotechnology and are still somewhat dubious about the possible risks of the science.
A recent survey by Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has confirmed this theory, stating that clear definitions, terms and standards as well as far more research into the potential problems of nanotechnology are needed before the science is used to a greater degree in products.
The German survey confirms calls by scientists and others across the world for more regulatory oversight of nanotechnology to calm public fears about the possible risks posed by the emerging science.
However, Granleese said "Some estimates predict that the value of the nanotechnology-related product and services market will exceed $1 trillion by 2015, but European institutions and companies may be foregoing their claim to commercial returns by not filing patents on their research."