Will the "World's Strongest Material" Stirr Up New Patent Wars?

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Graphene is 300 times stronger than steel and even harder than diamonds. It is also the thinnest and lightest material (one atom thick) ever obtained by man, is transparent, as well as bendable. Not to mention that it conducts electricity- even better than copper, in fact. The European Union wants to “take graphene and related layered materials from academic laboratories to society, revolutionize multiple industries and create economic growth and new jobs in Europe.” They want to do this in ten years, shelling out a $1.35 billion grant to do it.

Telecomms, Lumias, and...graphene?

Out of 73 organizations who have received money from this grant, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) is one that may benefit. It appears that Nokia wants to work further with graphene, which may compliment their handset business, and maybe even their telecommunications joint Venture with Siemens, handsomely. According to the company, they have been working with the substance since 2006, and want to use the stuff to make things such as lighter, stronger smart phones- and possibly even graphene-based photo sensors. Nokia seems to be overly excited about the substance, as can be felt by the comments of Jani Kivioja, of Nokia Research Center:

"When we talk about graphene, we've reached a tipping point. We're now looking at the beginning of a graphene revolution... Before this point in time, we figured out a way to manufacture cheap iron that led to the Industrial Revolution. Then there was silicon. Now it's time for graphene."

Sounds like this substance may be the future, but in its infancy I remain cautiously optimistic. Nokia is not alone in its graphene pursuits, either.

The big boys are getting into the game

Apparently Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) and IBM (NYSE: IBM) also want in on the action. Both companies are working to develop graphene based scientific equipment. Mechanical strength, optical purity, effectively efficient conduction of both heat and electricity make it a perfect substance for the task. A team at IBM has also been using graphene transistors to conduct photoconductivity experiments with the substance. Ultrafast and highly efficient photo detectors made from the material may be coming in the future. (Photo detectors are devices that convert optical signals into electrical current in order to detect light. These photo detectors are used in applications such as sensing and imaging).

Implications for wireless and mobile

Graphene may also have potential implications in wireless communications. Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) is beginning to devote some research and development to the material as well. According to the company's vice president of business development, Nicholas Karter:

“Qualcomm believes that industry/research partnerships are critical to commercializing new technologies... The annual Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship is focused on recognizing, rewarding, and mentoring innovative Ph.D. students across a broad range of technical research areas."

Mr. Karter is referring to the $100,000 prize recently awarded to Michael Lekas and Sunwoo Lee, electrical engineering Ph.D. candidates, whose project working with graphene related to wireless communications apparently impressed the company very much. More can be read on this subject here.

So what about patents?

Samsung is currently in the lead for graphene patents, followed by IBM. According to a British study, when it comes to countries, China is taking the lead by a longshot, with over 2,200 patents. The United States is second, with around 1,700. Britain had a lowly 54, which may explain why they are also investing money to dish out grants.

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To put Samsung's lead in perspective: they have over 400 graphene patents to IBM's 134.

The bottom line:

The wonder material known as graphene is starting to cause competition in the patent world. Its applications and uses are being explored and tested, and it may lead to infinite innovations in multiple sectors and industries. Companies are positioning themselves to reap the rewards, and it may be a good time for investors to start paying more attention to graphene to follow suit. The filing of patents has begun by both countries and companies.


Jharry1 owns shares of Nokia. The Motley Fool owns shares of International Business Machines. and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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