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Ever read Michael Crichton’s science-fiction thriller “Prey”? Could anyone honestly believe that a cloud of nanoparticles is capable of uncontrolled self-reproduction and wreaking deadly havoc? According to “Public Perceptions About Nanotechnology: Risks, Benefits and Trust,” a recent study by North Carolina State University, “Prey” may be an important source of information for a general public with scant knowledge about nanotechnology. But the public’s reliance on science fiction as a primary source of information sadly hinders the effective advancement of nanotechnology and prevents a clear understanding of its benefits. Knowing the science behind the fiction is critical for public acceptance of an innovation like nanotechnology. “The biggest challenge will be overcoming the public’s fear of a scary-sounding technology — particularly one they can’t see or understand,” according to “Technology Predictions for 2005″ by the Deloitte Technology, Media & Telecommunications Group. Nanotechnology is touted as the next industrial revolution. President Bush’s 2005 budget provides the National Nanotechnology Initiative with approximately $1 billion to research the unique properties of nanoscale phenomena. Because of the nature of nanotechnology, research and development is multidisciplinary, with 22 federal agencies participating. “The National Nanotechnology Initiative: Research and Development Leading to a Revolution in Technology and Industry,” a supplement to the president’s budget, sets out four goals for the next five to 10 years: maintain a world-class research and development program; facilitate transfer of new technologies into products; develop educational resources and a skilled workforce; and support the responsible development of nanotechnology. Strategic priorities for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in this area include conducting nanotechnology customer partnership meetings with the following identified activities: specific nanotechnology-related patent examiner training; work on the new cross-reference digest for “nanotechnology” designated as Class 977/Digest 1; and continue discussions with the “Trilateral Offices” partners, the European Patent Office and the Japan Patent Office on nanotechnology-related patent issues. Nanotechnology is about size — matter at the length scale of approximately 1 to 100 nanometers — and the huge potential that the small provides to understanding and controlling novel properties and functions due to their nanoscale dimensions or components. This ability to manipulate matter at the nanoscale is serving as a change agent across society, the medical and legal professions, corporate supply chains and, as the author Thomas L. Friedman might say, how business is conducted in a flat world of convergent forces. The president’s budget request for nanotechnology research and development funding is $1.05 billion across 11 agencies. With so much money allocated toward this initiative — not just in the United States, but globally — the public, the legal profession, and the business community need to pay attention. But where do we stand? That is one of the questions answered by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in their report last month, “The National Nanotechnology Initiative at Five Years: Assessment and Recommendations of the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel.” The report states that federal funding for nanotechnology research and development is about one-quarter of the current global investment of all nations. Total annual U.S. research and development spending on the federal, state and private levels stands at some $3 billion. When fiscal year 2005 concludes later this year, more than $4 billion will have been spent since fiscal year 2001 on nanotechnology research and development. Yet, while the United States is the acknowledged leader in nanotechnology research and development today, all the federal government monies allocated toward the advancement of nanotechnology may not be sufficient to maintain its lead against competing nations, such as the European Union and Japan. According to the president’s council report, Lux Research estimated that in 2004, corporations spent $3.8 billion of the $8.6 billion spent on nanotechnology research and development worldwide, with 46 percent of that spent by North American companies; 36 percent by Asian companies, 17 percent by European firms, and less than 1 percent by businesses elsewhere. Venture capital firms investing in nanotechnology start-ups totaled approximately $400 million. To emphasize the significance of this spending, the Patent Office reported in its Nanotechnology Customer Partnership Meeting last month that 1,348 patents had been classified as Class 977 across several technology centers: biotechnology and organic chemistry; chemical and materials engineering; computer architecture software and information security; communications; semiconductor, electrical, optical systems; transportation, construction, electronic commerce; and mechanical engineering, manufacturing and products, highlighting the cross-disciplinary investment in and nature of nanotechnology. Still, one expressed area of concern by the president’s council is the fact that there is a reported decline in U.S. undergraduate and graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math while there is an increase in other countries, particularly industrialized Asian nations. Can the United States continue to maintain its leadership in nanotechnology? While nanotechnology-enabled innovations may be embedded in stain-resistant clothing, computer hard drives, sporting equipment and cosmetics, it is still not considered an industry. In a soon to be released book entitled “Nano-Hype: The Truth Behind the Nanotechnology Buzz,” author David M. Berube states that: “Claims associated with nanotechnology are rife with exaggeration … . While false expectations can be problematic, this is not universally true, hype can whet appetites as well, hence hype is not all bad … . Unfortunately, those people responsible for the rhetorical flourishing may not be market savvy to time their remarks fortuitously, and there’s the rub … . It’s awfully difficult to find where the hype ends and where the hope begins.” One market-savvy individual is Edward Moran, director of product innovation for the Technology, Media & Telecommunications Group at Deloitte Services. An attorney by profession, Moran leads the nanotech industry practice group and understands the commercial opportunities of nanotechnology in the immediate future. Quoting Lux Research, Moran states that “nanotechnology is now coming of age as sophisticated investors and corporate executives grasp that this is no passing field … . Clearly, governments and industries that ignore nanotechnology-driven innovation are missing large opportunities, and risk being blindsided.” CONCLUSION Nanotechnology has become one of the hottest international fields in science and business. Even law firms have begun to form nanotechnology practice groups, as governments, academia, and the private sectors are making huge investments in the field. There is often a tendency to hype new scientific and technological innovations in their early stages. Nanotechnology stirs global debate as well as legal, ethical, policy, regulatory, health, safety, and environmental concerns. Fortunately, those issues have begun to receive attention and investments of their own. Sonia E. Miller, an attorney in private practice in New York and Washington, D.C., is the founder and president of the Converging Technologies Bar Association.

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