Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Internationalization and evolution of application areas of an emerging technology: The case of nanotechnology


Nanotechnology patenting has grown rapidly in recent years as an increasing number of countries are getting into the global nanotechnology race. Using a refined methodology to identify and classify nanotechnology patents, this paper analyses the changing pattern of internationalization of nanotechnology patenting activities from 1976–2004. We show that the dominance of the G5 countries have declined in recent years, not only in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality as measured by citation indicators. In addition, using a new approach to classifying the intended areas of commercial applications, we show that nanotechnology patenting initially emphasized instrumentation, but exhibited greater diversification to other application areas in recent years. Significant differences in application area specialization are also found among major nanotechnology nations. Moreover, universities are found to play a significant and increasing role in patenting, particularly in US, UK and Canada.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Adelman, D. E., DeAngelis, K. L. (2007), Patent metrics: The mismeasure of innovation in the biotech patent debate, Texas Law Review, forthcoming.

  2. Arnall, A., Parr, D. (2005), Moving the nanoscience and technology debate forwards: short-term impacts, long-term uncertainty and the social constitution, Technology in Society, 27: 23–38.

  3. Bawa, R. (2004). Nanotechnology patenting in the US, Nanotechnology Law and Business, 1: 31–50.

  4. Braun, T., Schubert, A., Zsindely, S. (1997), Nanoscience and nanotechnology on the balance, Scientometrics, 38(2): 321–325.

  5. Compano, R., Hullman, A. (2002), Forecasting the development of nanotechnology with the help of science and technology indicators, Nanotechnology, 13(3): 243–247.

  6. Darby, M. R., Zucker, L. G. (2003), Grilichesian breakthroughs: Inventions of methods of inventing and firm entry in nanotechnology, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 9825.

  7. Darby, M. R., Zucker, L. G. (2004), Formation and transformation of industries: Nanotechnology, chapter 2 in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology: Opportunities and Challenges in California, Sacramento, CA: California Council on Science and Technology. Downloaded from http://www.ccst.us/ccst/pubs/nano/NanoReport.pdf

  8. Grupp, H. (1994), The measurement of technical performance of innovations by technometrics and its impact on established technology indicators, Research Policy, 23: 175–193.

  9. Holister, P. (2002), Nanotech: the tiny revolution. CMP Cientifica.

  10. Huang, Z., Chen, H., Chen, Z. K., Roco, M. C. (2004), International nanotechnology development in 2003: Country, institution and technology field analysis based on USPTO patent database, Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 6: 325–354.

  11. Huang, Z., Chen, H., Yip, A., Ng, G., Guo, F., Chen, Z. K., Roco, M. C. (2003), Longitudinal patent analysis for nanoscale science and engineering: Country, institution and technology field, Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 5: 333–363.

  12. Hullman, A., Meyer, M. (2003), Publications and patents in nanotechnology: An overview of previous studies and the state of the art, Scientometrics, 58(3): 507–527.

  13. Lee, L. L., Chan, C. K., Ngaim, M., Ramakrishna, S. (2006), Nanotechnology patent landscape 2006, Nano, 1(2): 101–113.

  14. Lemley, M. A. (2005). Patenting nanotechnology, Stanford Law Review, 61: 601–630.

  15. Marinova, D., McAleer, M. (2003) Nanotechnology strength indicators: International rankings based on US patents. Nanotechnology, 14: R1–R7.

  16. Meyer, M. (2000), Patent citations in a novel field of technology: What can they tell about interactions of emerging communities of science and technology? Scientometrics, 48: 151–178.

  17. Meyer, M. (2001), Patent citation analysis in a novel field of technology: An exploration of nano-science and nano-technology. Scientometrics, 51: 163–183.

  18. Meyer, M., Persson, O. (1998), Nanotechnology: Interdisciplinarity, patterns of collaboration and differences in application, Scientometrics, 42: 195–205.

  19. Miller, J. C., Serrato, R., Represas-Cardenas, J. M., Kundahl, G. (2005), The Handbook Of Nanotechnology: Business, Policy, And Intellectual Property Law 224, John Wiley: New York.

  20. Rosenberg, N. (1992) Scientific instrumentation and university research, Research Policy, 21: 381–390.

  21. Sampat, B. N., (2004) Examining Patent Examination: An Analysis of Examiner and Applicant Generated Prior Art, Haas Business School Working Paper, downloaded from http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/wakeman/ba297tspring05/Sampat.pdf

  22. Schummer, J. (2004). Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and patterns of research collaboration in nanoscience and nanotechnology, Scientometrics, 59(3): 425–465

  23. Trajtenberg, M., Jaffe, A., Henderson, R (1997). University versus corporate patents: A window on the basicness of invention, Economics of Innovation and New Technology, 5(1): 19–50.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Poh Kam Wong.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wong, P.K., Ho, Y.P. & Chan, C.K. Internationalization and evolution of application areas of an emerging technology: The case of nanotechnology. Scientometrics 70, 715–737 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-007-0309-z

Download citation


  • Application Area
  • Patent Citation
  • Institutional Ownership
  • Revealed Comparative Advantage
  • Nanotechnology Patent