U.S. sets new rules of the road for international collaboration.
In a move which is likely to affect nanotechnology funding patterns, the
U.S. government is now paving the way for U.S. firms to collaborate on R&D
with their international competitors, especially in Japan. The vehicle for
this new emphasis on global R&D collaboration is a trio of international
agreements, recently signed by the Clinton Administration, that aims to
lower barriers between companies or universities doing industrial research
in different countries.
The agreements, which involve a collection of federal agencies including
the Commerce Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology,
and the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, set up what
David Mitchell, a vice president at Rockwell, calls "the rules of the
road for international collaboration." The accords, say Commerce Department
officials, are intended to help companies and universities cut the costs
of industrial research by reducing duplication and bringing together labs
that have complementary skills.
The first of the agreements, the Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS)
initiative, is intended to boost precompetitive research on energy-efficient
assembly lines and other manufacturing technologies in the United States,
Europe, Japan, Australia, and Canada. After IMS negotiations were finalized
in February 1994, two U.S.-Japan projects were quickly firmed up, one aimed
at optoelectronics-devices for communicating and computing with light-and
the other at a grab bag of technologies. The primary beneficiaries are expected
to be academic labs and small companies.
The new agreements don't help with any money, but they should lower the
overhead costs of setting up a collaboration by establishing international
"marriage brokers" to match up partners and help them around potential
potholes, such as intellectual property rights. In the past, two provisions
of Japanese law have often prevented foreign companies from entering into
such arrangements with their Japanese counterparts. One makes it difficult
for foreign companies to sell their portion of intellectual property co-owned
with Japanese firms. The other sometimes requires foreign firms to help
reimburse the Japanese government for the research funds it gives to their
Japanese collaborators. During IMS negotiations, Japanese negotiators agreed
to suspend both of these rules for foreign researchers working under IMS.
With this breakthrough on intellectual property rights, IMS negotiations
quickly sailed to a successful conclusion. The agreement--the brainchild
of Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, now president of the University of Tokyo--aims to
help industry and academic researchers around the world work together to
solve common problems, such as developing environment-friendly manufacturing
processes (including, perhaps, nanotechnology?) and computerizing production
facilities. Already, researchers from 143 companies and universities participated
in collaborations to study problems in areas such as energy-efficient manufacturing
and fast prototyping. [Science265:1520, 9/9/94]
"The U.S. has significantly strengthened its competitive position in
critical technologies during the past five years," according to a recent
study by the Council on Competitiveness. The 22-page study-"Critical
Technologies Update 1994"-highlights the U.S.'s current competitive
position in 94 specific technologies across five broad areas: (1) materials
and and associated processing technologies; (2) engineering and production
technologies; (3) electronic components; (4) information technologies; and
(5) power train and propulsion technologies. The experts point out several
new, emerging critical technologies including fuel cells, rapid prototyping,
reusable software, multimedia systems, micromechanical systems, and compression
technologies. Given the coverage elsewhere in this issue, we expect to see
nanotechnology showing up on these kinds of lists soon. [C&EN
Last August, U.S. Vice President Gore unveiled his awaited report, "Science
in the National Interest." The report uses the fresh metaphor of an
"ecosystem" instead of the older "production line" model
and affirms that basic research is a national need. The report is also a
declaration to the scientific community that its work must be made more
clearly relevant to human concerns (a guideline which, if enforced, could
lead to more nanotechnology-oriented research). The report calls on the
scientific community to communicate in more creative, multimedia ways of
popularizing science. Most important, the report was a warning that the
country's foundation--its youth and minorities--continue to lose ground
in what is called "scientific literacy."
The report identifies five overriding goals for the U.S. scientific enterprise:
(1) global leadership in all major research areas; (2) better connections
between fundamental research and the country's social, environmental, and
economic goals; (3) new partnerships between government, industry, and universities
to reach those larger goals; (4) production of scientists and engineers
for future needs; and (5) higher technical "literacy" for Americans.
Except perhaps for the second goal listed, most of these are too broad to
be likely to benefit nanotechnology.
The report lays out specific policies to help reach its goals:
Review by the new President's Committee of Advisers on Science &
Technology and the National Science & Technology Council of federal
research programs to ensure that they relate adequately to national needs.
Raising combined public-private R&D spending to 3% of the gross
domestic product. The current figure is 2.6%, but Presidential Science Advisor
John Gibbons says too much of it is still dominated by defense R&D.
Stronger emphasis on multinational funding of large-scale scientific
projects (potentially a win for nanotechnology).
Increased private-sector involvement in improving academic research
facilities and instrumentation.
Renewed emphasis on the already strong efforts to develop scientists
and engineers among minority groups.
Making permanent the tax credit for research and experimentation in
However, Gibbons didn't commit the Administration to any specific budgetary
increases for science, but says he hope to achieve "virtual" increases
through better leveraging of research funds and new efforts to improve research
productivity. [C&EN 8/8/94, p. 6-7]
The Clinton Administration is giving a new, expanded role to the Critical
Technologies Institute (CTI), created by Congressional mandate under the
Bush Administration. The term "critical technologies" leapt into
the Washington policy vernacular around 1989, when concern over Japan's
preeminence in high technology was at its highest. CTI was created as an
"outside think tank" for the White House Office of Science &
Technology Policy. The federally contracted body is managed by the Rand
Corp., with its budget overseen by the National Science Foundation. NSF
plays no role in CTI's program, however. CTI's attention currently focuses
Formulating a technology strategy for lifelong learning.
Helping to set plans for implementing the Administration's environmental
technology strategy. (It will be interesting to see whether Foresight's
Senate testimony has an impact here.)
Establishing "performance milestones" for implementation
of policies in several areas such as environment and natural resources,
fundamental science (including a white paper on how to evaluate U.S. investment
in basic science), and a study of how to assess measures of industrial performance.
Assessing the performance and problems of the metal casting and machine
Developing a vast database covering the entire government's funding
of science and technology, agency by agency, project by project. The database
is for use by the National Science & Technology Council in its effort
to coordinate federal science and technology funding and to cut costs. One
challenge for such a database will be to identify nanotechnology-related
research, which goes under many different terms. [C&EN 9/26/94,
Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker leads Apple Computer's development of multimedia
authoring tools for science, math, and medical education as Senior Engineer
Scientist, Technical Manager of the East/West Authoring Tools Group within
Apple's Advanced Technology Group.
Elizabeth Enayati, an attorney with Weil, Gotshal & Manges, answers
Foresight members' questions on intellectual property issues in nanotechnology. [Editor's Note: See later columns for Elizabeth Enayati's
The New Year, 1995, brings the implementation of a significant change in
U.S. intellectual property law with broad effects on many areas of R&D
including nanotechnology. On December 8, 1994, President Clinton signed
into law the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, implementing the Uruguay Round
Trade Accord, which expands and revises the General Agreement on Tariffs
and Trade (GATT). The Accord is over 400 pages in length. Although the U.S.
Act is significantly shorter, it implements significant changes to U.S.
trade practices, including intellectual property laws. A comprehensive analysis
of the Act, also referred to as "the GATT Bill," is beyond the
scope of this column. However, the following are some highlights of amendments
to U.S. patent laws that may affect the nanotechnology fields of endeavor.
The patent term for a U.S. patent issued from an application filed on or
after June 8, 1995, is 20 years from the first U.S. filing date. Patent
applications filed before and patents in effect on June 8, 1995, have a
term that is the longer of 17 years from the issue date or 20 years from
the U.S. application filing date.
The 20 year term may be extended, for a maximum of 5 years each, for the
length of: interference proceedings; a secrecy order imposed by the U.S.
government on an application; or successful appellate review of a final
Patent Office rejection by either the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences
or a federal court. However, the patent term may only be extended for a
maximum total of 5 years.
Provisional patent applications
After June 8, 1995, provisional patent applications may be filed in the
U.S. Patent Office. Although the U.S. grants a patent to the inventor who
can prove the first date of invention, nearly every other world market country
grants a patent to the first person to file a patent application. A provisional
application preserves an early filing date, for purposes of determining
priority in the U.S. and abroad.
Provisional patent applications do not require claims, but must fully disclose
the invention such that one of ordinary skill can practice the invention.
A complete U.S. and/or international patent application, including claims,
must be filed within 12 months of the provisional application filing date
to preserve the priority date. Although the priority application filing
date may be relied on for priority, the 20-year term is measured from the
filing date of the complete application. The type and timing of patent
filings in the U.S. clearly will change as a result of this amendment. An
international strategy now must be considered at the outset of any patent
Inventions made abroad
Under present U.S. patent law, when two inventors are in dispute over who
is the first to invent, i.e., enter into an interference proceeding in the
U.S. Patent Office, evidence of activities that occurred outside U.S., Mexico,
or Canada territory is not admissible to prove invention. This protectionist
provision in U.S. patent law was amended post-NAFTA to make admissible evidence
of activities occurring in NAFTA countries during an interference proceeding.
Under the new law, activities occurring in any of the World Trade Organization
(WTO) member countries, which encompasses most of Europe, may be considered
during an interference proceeding. One ramification of this amendment is
that foreign language documents now must be considered during an interference
proceeding. This amendment is not expected to go into effect prior to January
1, 1996, and affects patent applications filed after that date.
Present U.S. patent law grants to a patent holder the right to exclude others
from making, using, or selling the patented invention in the United States.
After about January 1, 1996, a patent holder has the right to exclude others
also from offering for sale patented products or products made using a patented
process. Thus, under the law as amended, the mere offer for sale of a patented
product may be treated as an infringing act. In addition, it will be illegal
to import a product covered by a U.S. patent.
There is a significant likelihood that legislation will at least be introduced
to: (1) add a requirement that U.S. patent applications are published 18
months from the priority filing date; and (2) to amend the patent term from
being a strict 20-years-from-filing term to being the longer of 17
years from grant or 20 years from filing.
Nearly every major world market country publishes patent applications 18
months from the filing priority date. Even U.S. patent applications filed
abroad are published at 18 months. However, the U.S. patent laws do not
have such a requirement. Look for legislation in 1995 proposing such an
amendment to U.S. patent laws.
Under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, the signatory countries only are
required to amend their patent laws to provide a patent term that is at
least 20 years from filing. Thus, it may be consistent with the language,
if not the spirit, of the Act to further amend the U.S. laws to the 17/20
If you have any questions about these provisions, or would like additional
details regarding how any of these amendments affect nanotechnology R&D,
please feel free to contact me. My new e-mail address is:
eenayati@ mcimail.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent Events: Senior Associates Confer at
by Gayle Pergamit
Senior Associates heard new timelines for the arrival of nanotechnology.
Only a short summary of a few meeting highlights can be presented here;
more in-depth coverage will follow in later issues. Special thanks go to
Steve Vetter and Ed Niehaus for providing their notes on the meeting.
Coming from as far away as England and Italy for the annual meeting of Foresight,
IMM, and CCIT Senior Associates, 65 Senior Associates spent two information-packed
October days in the Bay Area brainstorming, organizing new nanotechnology
businesses, problem solving on next-generation key technical issues, getting
updates on current protein-based self-assembly work and assembler design,
taking a early look at work-in-progress by Eric Drexler, and continuing
the exploration of emerging social issues.
Highlights this year included new timeline estimates for the advent of nanotechnology,
the first venture capital networking for nanotechnology-related businesses,
and planning for two new Senior Associate work groups to carry out the next
generation of Foresight projects. Surrounding a core day of lectures and
workshops were parties and social events. Over dinner plates of pasta, or
over breakfast tea and scones, we heard business deals coming together and
lively debates covering social issues and technical pathways.
Eric Drexler's preview of his current work, complete with illustrations
that included "system view" diagrams and details of friction,
power consumption, and productivity calculations, gave a glimpse of progress
at pushing nanotechnology to the next level of practicality. Drexler demonstrated
advancing from the design of the individual gears and other components as
shown in Nanosystems
to the next generation issues of convergent assembly processes for large
objects through molecular manufacturing. This new generation of work includes
fully elaborated nanomachines and system-level design of simple molecular
The realm of convergent assembly promises to produce its own set of classic
questions to replace the ones raised and answered during earlier nanotechnology
research, such as "won't quantum effects make nanomachines impossible?"
The questions we explored with Drexler and the Senior Associates included
"What are the odds of bonding to the wrong atom during an assembly
The odds change as a function of stiffness and temperature. With an easy-to-achieve
stiffness of 10 newtons/m, the chances of bonding with the wrong atom when
working at room temperature can be less than one in 1015.
"How long will a molecular manufacturing process take to construct
a product the size of a bread box?" Conclusion:
By using multiple, parallel paths to build many small molecular components,
Drexler calculated that the throughput time--from small molecules at the
input side to hefty objects at the output--can easily be less than 100 seconds.
Slower speeds would give greater efficiency, however.
"Aren't power dissipation problems going to be intractable? Aren't
they going to make molecularly-precise assembly very slow?" Conclusion:
Drexler analyzed the advantages of scaling by increasing the number of robot
arms inside a cubic meter "factory" and exploring the changes
in friction, power consumption, and productivity. When he finally encountered
power dissipation problems, he slowed operations down and still achieved
a 0.05 cubic meter, 1 kg mass manufacturing system that hourly converts
1.6 kg of raw feedstock solution and 0.9 kg of atmosphere oxygen into 1.5
kg. of high-purity water and 1 kg of product. The system would throw off
1.1 kW of waste heat and produce 3.6 kW of surplus power.
Drexler discussed how this research work, along with his survey of state-of-the-art
progress in self-assembly techniques for an article in Annual Review
of Biophysics and Biomolecular Structure, has generated new thoughts
on how and when we will likely reach fully-developed nanotechnology. In
answer to other classic questions--"how long will it take?" and
"will it happen in my lifetime?"--he gave two varieties of "conservative"
estimates for the arrival of nanotechnology. "If you are considering
the benefits of nanotechnology, it is conservative to plan on 20 years.
If you are concerned about competitors getting it first, it is conservative
to plan on 10 years. When people say they think we are still 100 years away,
all I can ask is 'What do you think researchers will be doing between 2035
and 2045 that will be so difficult that it will leave another half-century
of work to reach nanotechnology?' "
Seed fund for nanotechnology
On the path to full nanotechnology, conference attendees agreed, there are
many good possibilities for useful and profitable products. Working with
that theme, Senior Associate Steve Vetter introduced fellow Senior Associates
to his new seed capital firm devoted specifically to advancing the state-of-the-art
of molecular manufacturing: Molecular Manufacturing
Enterprises, Inc. (MMEI).
An unusual venture capital firm, MMEI not only seeks for-profit ventures,
but also wishes to back a variety of projects including those submitted
from non-profit entities, educational institutions, or private investigators,
provided that the projects directly advance molecular manufacturing. In
addition to capital, MMEI's resources include a range of business and technical
expertise brought by its owners: Steve Vetter (software engineer and entrepreneur),
Dr. Scott MacLaren (material science researcher and consultant at the University
of Illinois), and Tanya Sienko (researcher with the technical policy arm
of the Japanese government). MMEI's advisors include Dr. Ralph Merkle of
Xerox PARC and Dr. Roald Hoffman, 1981 Nobel laureate in chemistry.
Trusty computing workshop
With the strong progress being made on the hardware aspects of nanotechnology,
Senior Associates took the lead in addressing the critical, lagging item
needed for safe, successful nanotechnology development: trustworthy and
secure computing environments. With the powerful potentials of nanotechnology
moving quickly closer, the need for software that we can trust to design
complex nanosystems (and eventually perform cell repair) is fast becoming
Ralph Merkle (one of the inventors
of public key encryption, now at Xerox PARC), Mark Miller, and Norm Hardy
(developer of KeyKOS, an advanced operating system that offers real security
to its users) both of Agorics,
Inc., led a heavily attended software workshop. Senior Associates interested
in the Trusty Computing project got a crash course in capability-based security
systems, the philosophical principles on which security should be based,
one-way gate systems, minimalism versus other design philosophies, cryptographic
keys, the incentives for security produced by the advent of electronic cash,
and posted-prize schemes for breaking and testing security systems. Senior
Associates on the project will be contributing to drafts of a paper which
defines the security problem and proposes solutions that can be adopted
and implemented by the software community at large as a standard.
And much more...
So much was covered at the meeting that we can't do justice to it here.
We plan to cover other aspects of the meeting in future issues: Ralph
Merkle on the World WideWeb; Foresight's
hypertext project; Ted Kaehler's review of progress on the self-assembly
path to nanotechnology with the newest approach to protein folding; CCIT
president Jim Bennett's look at the regulatory side of international cooperation
on nanotechnology: the successes, failures, potential impact, and best pattern
for export controls; and the workshop on social issues led by myself and
Foresight director Chris Peterson.
Gayle Pergamit, co-author of Unbounding the Future and guest editor
of this issue of Foresight Update, can be reached at email@example.com.