European Patent Office predicts promising trends for graphene in healthcare
Analysis of patent data highlights Europe as a strong contender, and new medical applications of graphene are expected on the horizon
In a new collaborative study, Nigel Clarke and colleagues at the European Patent Office are using data from hundreds of graphene patents to identify trends in the potential of graphene-based biomedical technologies.
Patents are publications that disclose new inventions as intellectual property, giving the innovators – be they individuals, research groups or companies – legal protection over their creations. Patenting is important for science and innovation as it allows scientists to take appropriate action if their work is copied or stolen.
The study, which is currently ongoing, analyses data from patents filed across two emerging fields enhanced by graphene and related materials: biomedical implants and sensors for healthcare. By transforming this data into trends and patterns, it could be used to indicate the active geographical locations for a specific field of research, to help scientists to identify areas with untapped potential, or even to assess how patented technologies evolve over time. Clarke spoke to the Graphene Flagship about the collaboration, emphasising the importance of patenting for innovation in the field of graphene and related materials.
"Patenting encourages other researchers to find new solutions or create new inventions to tackle different aspects of a problem, and as technology moves on, it encourages people to work on completely new applications as well," Clarke explains. But that's not all: patent data also offers a unique opportunity for statistical analysis, which is the basis for this study. "The data from this process offers a unique way to see patterns in new technology moving out of the lab and onto the market," he continues.
Patent examiners at the European Patent Office worked closely with the Graphene Flagship to scrutinise data from the hundreds of published patent applications for graphene-based inventions for medical applications. One part of the study, for instance, compares factors like the country of origin with the field of study to examine geographic trends in the patenting of graphene-based inventions. "We're slicing and dicing the data to produce a clean dataset, then looking into trends to create a timeline," Clarke says. By averaging data from all countries over the recent decades, the study finds that overall, Europe is in a very strong position in terms of the relative number of patent applications.
Indeed, Clarke says that the spread of patent applications indicates that there are very likely to be new healthcare-related applications of graphene on the horizon. "We'll be finding applications of graphene in healthcare easily, I would say – there's no doubt about that. We haven't yet looked at applications other than sensors or implants, as there would've been too much data to analyse in one go, but graphene for healthcare is a very rich area for research and it seems to be highly promising."
Not only this, but by looking at citations to older patents, which are just like citations in scientific papers, the study will illustrate the way in which new inventions in graphene for healthcare are building upon previous ones. Clarke says that this will be useful to paint a picture of how generations of technology are evolving over time, highlighting the patents that were most impactful as a foundation for future research and development.
A number of significant innovations in the field of graphene for healthcare have emerged from graphene research and development over the last few years. Clarke highlights a few of the most influential ones brought to light by his investigation: a Graphene FET-based biosensor by the Austrian Institute of Technology (EP2848929, a European patent), or a dental implant by Micro Medica SRL (EP2839807, also filed in Italy and the US).
To learn more about the potential of graphene and layered materials for the medical technologies of the future, join us for our free Graphene for Healthcare digital event on 26 November 2020, featuring talks from the European Patent Office's Nigel Clarke and INBRAIN's Carolina Aguilar.