Yesterday the Financial Times reported concerns that the EU is lagging behind in terms of R&D spending: “Overall EU R&D spending has remained at about 2 per cent of GDP in the last decade, a long way off the 3 per cent target the EU wants to achieve by 2020. (…) Furthermore, the European Commission estimates that China could overtake the EU in absolute R&D spending by as early as 2014. The share of patent applications – many of which are applicable to manufacturing – also gives a hint of this competitive threat.”
One of the areas of competition with China is the development of graphene. According to research by UK technology strategy company Cambridge IP, of the 11,372 graphene-related patents and patent applications worldwide, nearly two-thirds have been made by Asian companies or organisations” (mainly distributed over China, Korea, and Japan). “China in particular has stepped up its bid (…). Between 2012-2013, it made more than 80 per cent of all patent applications.” Another report published last year by the UK Intellectual Property Office identified 8 of the 20 top graphene patent holders as Chinese, most notably Tsinghua University (5th position) and Zhejiang University (3rd position). Efforts in the field of graphene recently were also highlighted in the annual scientific report of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
It appears that particularly in the field of manufacturing and commercialization of graphene, China is building up a strong position. In Asia as a whole, a large part of the patent portfolio involves manufacturing technology. One of the biggest challenges to large scale commercial applications is how to maintain the quality of graphene as production is scaled up. Scientists have warned that it could take another 10 to 20 years for full-scale commercialisation is achieved, although graphene-enhanced products could be launched within a 12-18 months.
As pointed out by the director of the UK’s main graphene research hubs, the Cambridge Graphene Centre, it is important to catch up with China (and the rest of Asia) in terms of patent activity: “If you wait too long, then you may find that some technology may be blocked by patents”.