Immaterialgüter- und Wettbewerbsrecht

Upstream-Patents in Nanotechnology. A Comparison between Europe and the US

Nanotechnology is said to bring about the next technological revolution. At the same time, many fear it heavily clashes with the patent system, stopping that revolution dead in its tracks. The project tries to disentangle and evaluate this concern.

Last Update: 16.09.16

Nanotechnology is concerned with the scale set by a billionth of a meter and in particular its control. Dealing with small molecules and – depending on the definition – even with single atoms, the breadth of the field is vast. It promises to enable not only fundamental scientific insights on the one hand, but also novel applications ranging from materials to medicine on the other.
    This multidisciplinary and research-driven nature of nanotechnology is seen by many to clash with the patent system, though. For example, some point out that patents on nanotechnology in its fundamentality allegedly amount to patents on the “building blocks of nature.” Others fear that the patent landscape is growing ever more intractable due to the patchy nomenclature stemming from the diversity of disciplines nanotechnology touches upon. In the literature, the whole range of concerns has been encapsulated by the expression “nanotechnology patent thicket”, a term that has grown to be virtually omnipresent in the discussion on patents in the nanotech space.
    The project at hand tries to disentangle that term and to identify a common, basic concern. Not least, it tries to do so by comparing nanotechnology to other areas that have usually been linked to the existence of a patent thicket, i.e. most notably biotechnology.
    Based on those findings, the project goes on to develop a patent-policy advice and discusses its possible implementation. In particular, it does the latter drawing on instruments already present in patent law rather than devising a wholly new apparatus. Yet, it contains a comparison of US-American and European – respectively German – patent law that allows an easier and more reliable identification of the proper levers to be pulled. In doing all this, the work also hopes to contribute to the more general discussion on the role of patent law in promoting and incentivizing innovation.


Doctoral Student

Marius Fischer


Dr. Roberto Romandini

Doctoral Supervisor

Prof. Dr. Ansgar Ohly

Main Areas of Research