Analyzing the Graphene patent landscape reveals a global race

10 april, 2013

Guest blog by: Elicet Cruz PhD. of IFI Claims partner IALE Tecnologia (Spain)

Analyzing the Graphene Patent landscape reveals a global race

A recent article by the BBC News talked about the surge in research into the novel material graphene to reveal an intensifying global contest to lead a potential industrial revolution. According to the BBC: “Latest figures show a sharp rise in patents filed to claim rights over different aspects of graphene since 2007, with a further spike last year China leads the field as the country with the most patents. The South Korean electronics giant Samsung stands out as the company with most to its name.”

IALE used the data from Treparel’s partner IFI Claims and the KMX technology to provide more insights in the recent development oft he Graphene patent landscape.

Graphene 1

Figure 1: Graphene could find uses in computing, energy, medicine and other fields

Graphene is a material which through its extraordinary properties has attracted the attention of both scientists and industry worldwide.

It is an extremely thin sheet composed of a thick carbon atom with a networked, or hexagonal honeycomb structure, containing 50 million atoms per centimeter. In this regard is considered a two-dimensional material. When a graphene layer is placed one above the other, we obtain graphite. When wound forming spheres we obtain fullerene, and when wound forming tubes, carbon nanotubes are obtained. All of these three-dimensional shapes are materials from the same family.

In addition to its thinness, graphene stands out for its high transparency, flexibility, strength, impermeability and high electrical conductivity. Its conductivity is superior to any known metal. Furthermore, it is considered an environmentally friendly material and is relatively cheap to produce.
Due to these characteristics, graphene is considered a material with great future market potential, with applications in telecommunications (mobile telephony …), electronics (chip manufacturing …), medical – pharmaceutical, energy (solar panels), etc.

Patents on Graphene

Figure 2. Graphene, graphite, carbon nanotubes and fullerene

Figure 2. Graphene, graphite, carbon nanotubes and fullerene

Through a general search on graphene in the IFI CLAIMS Global Database, we obtain 12,878 granted patents and applications worldwide through December 2012. Figure 3 shows a patent landscape produced by the KMX patent analytics tool. The figure shows graphene patents, clustered according to main areas and technological development lines. As a next step, we create a KMX free classifier. We do this by labeling a few patents based on their location in the landscape and a review by the analyst. Then we train the classifier using the KMX Support Vector Machine algorithm developed by Treparel Information Solutions. The training process takes the labeled patents and uses them as a training set. Based on the full text of the patents, KMX applies labels to the entire collection based on their similarity to the training set. This interactive process of labeling, training and classifying can be repeated over and over again until we obtain the best classification.

Figure 3. Graphene patents used to train the classsifier (above), and the entire collection after training and applying the KMX classifier (below).

Figure 3. Graphene patents used to train the classsifier (above), and the entire collection after training and applying the KMX classifier (below).

The top part of figure 3 shows the patents used as the training set; the lower part shows the classification results after training and applying the classifier.

The two biggest clusters (“film, graphene, subtrate” containing 1,519 patents and “nanotubes, carbon, nanostructures” containing 2,096 patents) were extracted to create two new data sets. These were further classified, in order to explore the applications and developments specifically related to them (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Data sets for "film, graphene, substrate" and "nanotubes, carbon, nanostructures". Produced by KMX with data provided by IFI CLAIMS Patent Services.

Figure 4. Data sets for “film, graphene, substrate” and “nanotubes, carbon, nanostructures”. Produced by KMX with data provided by IFI CLAIMS Patent Services.

The development of graphene across the years, shows a growing trend in patentability in the latest 10 years, with more than the 57% of the patents published between 2011 and 2012 (Figure 5).

Evolution of patents on graphene

Figure 5. Evolution of patents on graphene. Source: KMX and IFI CLAIMS Global Database.

The number of graphene related patents have shown rapid growth over the last 10 years (Figure 5).  More than 57% of the patents were published in 2011 and 2012.

Looking at International Patent Classification (IPC) codes, there are 4,935 codes covering graphene patents.  The most common are shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Main IPC codes related to Graphene. Source: IFI CLAIMS Global Database.

Figure 6. Main IPC codes related to Graphene. Source: IFI CLAIMS Global Database.

The main patented contents are related to carbon preparation (C01B 31/02), graphite, including modified graphite (C01B 31/04), manufacture of carbon filaments (D01F 9/12), and to nanotechnologies for materials or surface science (B82K 30/00). There is a growing trend for all codes in the latest 3 years (2010-2012).

Patents have been published in more than 30 priority countries. 96% of the patents during the period 1994 through 2012 were filed in only 8 countries. The United States (US), China (CN) and Japan (JP) are the most prominent countries in the period (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. Main countries during the period 1994-2012. Source: IFI CLAIMS Global Database.

Figure 7. Main countries during the period 1994-2012. Source: IFI CLAIMS Global Database.

The covered patents belong to 6,831 families.  55% are  single patent families. 7 large families stand out due to their size (13-33 patents). Figure 8 shows the largest families, the subject areas claimed and the organizations which are the assignees of these families.

Figure 8. Largest patent families. Source: IFI Claims Global Database. Created with KMX.

Figure 8. Largest patent families. Source: IFI Claims Global Database. Created with KMX.

Geim and Novoselov – The Original Researchers

Graphene was discovered in 2004 by two Russian-born researchers Andre Geim (Sochi, 1958) and Konstantin Novoselov (Nizhny Tagil, 1974), professors at the University of Manchester (UK). They were awarded with the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

Until 2010, Geim and Novoselov, had not applied for any patents on this material, according to the article “Andre Geim: in praise of graphene” published in Nature News in October, 2010.

In this interview Geim explained the reasons:

“We considered patenting; we prepared a patent and it was nearly filed. Then I had an interaction with a big, multinational electronics company. I approached a guy at a conference and said, “We’ve got this patent coming up, would you be interested in sponsoring it over the years?” It’s quite expensive to keep a patent alive for 20 years. The guy told me, “We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it’s really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us.” … I considered this arrogant comment, and I realized how useful it was. There was no point in patenting graphene at that stage. You need to be specific: you need to have a specific application and an industrial partner.”

However, after this interview, Geim and Novoselov decided to patent graphene innovations associated with specific applications, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9 Patents on graphene with Geim y Novoselov as inventors (INV) or applicants (PA). Source: IFI CLAIMS Global Database. Created with KMX.

Figure 9 Patents on graphene with Geim y Novoselov as inventors (INV) or applicants (PA). Source: IFI CLAIMS Global Database. Created with KMX.

Geim (5 patents, 3 families) and Novoselov (7 patents, 4 families) have patented both together (5 patents, 3 families) and separately (3 patents, 1 family). The jointly filed patents are presented in the top part of Figure 9.  Novoselov’s patents appear in dark blue in the bottom part of Figure 9. These patents are associated with the cluster “fiber, polymer, composite.”

There is no doubt that graphene has great potential within multiple industries.  This potential was validated by a Nobel Prize for the researchers who first synthesized it.  The high level of patent activity, especially in the years 2010-2012, reinforces this view.

This article was originally published by IFI CLAIMS.

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