Foresight Update 20

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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Policy Watch

Compiled by Jamie Dinkelacker

U.S. sets new rules of the road for international collaboration.

In a move which is likely to affect nanotechnology funding patterns, the U.S. government is now paving the way for U.S. firms to collaborate on R&D with their international competitors, especially in Japan. The vehicle for this new emphasis on global R&D collaboration is a trio of international agreements, recently signed by the Clinton Administration, that aims to lower barriers between companies or universities doing industrial research in different countries.

The agreements, which involve a collection of federal agencies including the Commerce Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, set up what David Mitchell, a vice president at Rockwell, calls "the rules of the road for international collaboration." The accords, say Commerce Department officials, are intended to help companies and universities cut the costs of industrial research by reducing duplication and bringing together labs that have complementary skills.

The first of the agreements, the Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS) initiative, is intended to boost precompetitive research on energy-efficient assembly lines and other manufacturing technologies in the United States, Europe, Japan, Australia, and Canada. After IMS negotiations were finalized in February 1994, two U.S.-Japan projects were quickly firmed up, one aimed at optoelectronics-devices for communicating and computing with light-and the other at a grab bag of technologies. The primary beneficiaries are expected to be academic labs and small companies.

The new agreements don't help with any money, but they should lower the overhead costs of setting up a collaboration by establishing international "marriage brokers" to match up partners and help them around potential potholes, such as intellectual property rights. In the past, two provisions of Japanese law have often prevented foreign companies from entering into such arrangements with their Japanese counterparts. One makes it difficult for foreign companies to sell their portion of intellectual property co-owned with Japanese firms. The other sometimes requires foreign firms to help reimburse the Japanese government for the research funds it gives to their Japanese collaborators. During IMS negotiations, Japanese negotiators agreed to suspend both of these rules for foreign researchers working under IMS.

With this breakthrough on intellectual property rights, IMS negotiations quickly sailed to a successful conclusion. The agreement--the brainchild of Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, now president of the University of Tokyo--aims to help industry and academic researchers around the world work together to solve common problems, such as developing environment-friendly manufacturing processes (including, perhaps, nanotechnology?) and computerizing production facilities. Already, researchers from 143 companies and universities participated in collaborations to study problems in areas such as energy-efficient manufacturing and fast prototyping. [Science 265:1520, 9/9/94]

"The U.S. has significantly strengthened its competitive position in critical technologies during the past five years," according to a recent study by the Council on Competitiveness. The 22-page study-"Critical Technologies Update 1994"-highlights the U.S.'s current competitive position in 94 specific technologies across five broad areas: (1) materials and and associated processing technologies; (2) engineering and production technologies; (3) electronic components; (4) information technologies; and (5) power train and propulsion technologies. The experts point out several new, emerging critical technologies including fuel cells, rapid prototyping, reusable software, multimedia systems, micromechanical systems, and compression technologies. Given the coverage elsewhere in this issue, we expect to see nanotechnology showing up on these kinds of lists soon. [C&EN 9/24/94, p.4]

Last August, U.S. Vice President Gore unveiled his awaited report, "Science in the National Interest." The report uses the fresh metaphor of an "ecosystem" instead of the older "production line" model and affirms that basic research is a national need. The report is also a declaration to the scientific community that its work must be made more clearly relevant to human concerns (a guideline which, if enforced, could lead to more nanotechnology-oriented research). The report calls on the scientific community to communicate in more creative, multimedia ways of popularizing science. Most important, the report was a warning that the country's foundation--its youth and minorities--continue to lose ground in what is called "scientific literacy."

The report identifies five overriding goals for the U.S. scientific enterprise: (1) global leadership in all major research areas; (2) better connections between fundamental research and the country's social, environmental, and economic goals; (3) new partnerships between government, industry, and universities to reach those larger goals; (4) production of scientists and engineers for future needs; and (5) higher technical "literacy" for Americans. Except perhaps for the second goal listed, most of these are too broad to be likely to benefit nanotechnology.

The report lays out specific policies to help reach its goals:

However, Gibbons didn't commit the Administration to any specific budgetary increases for science, but says he hope to achieve "virtual" increases through better leveraging of research funds and new efforts to improve research productivity. [C&EN 8/8/94, p. 6-7]

The Clinton Administration is giving a new, expanded role to the Critical Technologies Institute (CTI), created by Congressional mandate under the Bush Administration. The term "critical technologies" leapt into the Washington policy vernacular around 1989, when concern over Japan's preeminence in high technology was at its highest. CTI was created as an "outside think tank" for the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. The federally contracted body is managed by the Rand Corp., with its budget overseen by the National Science Foundation. NSF plays no role in CTI's program, however. CTI's attention currently focuses on:

Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker leads Apple Computer's development of multimedia authoring tools for science, math, and medical education as Senior Engineer Scientist, Technical Manager of the East/West Authoring Tools Group within Apple's Advanced Technology Group.

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Law in Technology

by Elizabeth Enayati

Elizabeth Enayati, an attorney with Weil, Gotshal & Manges, answers Foresight members' questions on intellectual property issues in nanotechnology.
[Editor's Note: See later columns for Elizabeth Enayati's new affiliation.]

The New Year, 1995, brings the implementation of a significant change in U.S. intellectual property law with broad effects on many areas of R&D including nanotechnology. On December 8, 1994, President Clinton signed into law the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, implementing the Uruguay Round Trade Accord, which expands and revises the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The Accord is over 400 pages in length. Although the U.S. Act is significantly shorter, it implements significant changes to U.S. trade practices, including intellectual property laws. A comprehensive analysis of the Act, also referred to as "the GATT Bill," is beyond the scope of this column. However, the following are some highlights of amendments to U.S. patent laws that may affect the nanotechnology fields of endeavor.

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Patent term

The patent term for a U.S. patent issued from an application filed on or after June 8, 1995, is 20 years from the first U.S. filing date. Patent applications filed before and patents in effect on June 8, 1995, have a term that is the longer of 17 years from the issue date or 20 years from the U.S. application filing date.

The 20 year term may be extended, for a maximum of 5 years each, for the length of: interference proceedings; a secrecy order imposed by the U.S. government on an application; or successful appellate review of a final Patent Office rejection by either the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences or a federal court. However, the patent term may only be extended for a maximum total of 5 years.

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Provisional patent applications

After June 8, 1995, provisional patent applications may be filed in the U.S. Patent Office. Although the U.S. grants a patent to the inventor who can prove the first date of invention, nearly every other world market country grants a patent to the first person to file a patent application. A provisional application preserves an early filing date, for purposes of determining priority in the U.S. and abroad.

Provisional patent applications do not require claims, but must fully disclose the invention such that one of ordinary skill can practice the invention. A complete U.S. and/or international patent application, including claims, must be filed within 12 months of the provisional application filing date to preserve the priority date. Although the priority application filing date may be relied on for priority, the 20-year term is measured from the filing date of the complete application. The type and timing of patent filings in the U.S. clearly will change as a result of this amendment. An international strategy now must be considered at the outset of any patent filing.

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Inventions made abroad

Under present U.S. patent law, when two inventors are in dispute over who is the first to invent, i.e., enter into an interference proceeding in the U.S. Patent Office, evidence of activities that occurred outside U.S., Mexico, or Canada territory is not admissible to prove invention. This protectionist provision in U.S. patent law was amended post-NAFTA to make admissible evidence of activities occurring in NAFTA countries during an interference proceeding.

Under the new law, activities occurring in any of the World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries, which encompasses most of Europe, may be considered during an interference proceeding. One ramification of this amendment is that foreign language documents now must be considered during an interference proceeding. This amendment is not expected to go into effect prior to January 1, 1996, and affects patent applications filed after that date.

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Present U.S. patent law grants to a patent holder the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented invention in the United States. After about January 1, 1996, a patent holder has the right to exclude others also from offering for sale patented products or products made using a patented process. Thus, under the law as amended, the mere offer for sale of a patented product may be treated as an infringing act. In addition, it will be illegal to import a product covered by a U.S. patent.

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Future amendments

There is a significant likelihood that legislation will at least be introduced to: (1) add a requirement that U.S. patent applications are published 18 months from the priority filing date; and (2) to amend the patent term from being a strict 20-years-from-filing term to being the longer of 17 years from grant or 20 years from filing.

Nearly every major world market country publishes patent applications 18 months from the filing priority date. Even U.S. patent applications filed abroad are published at 18 months. However, the U.S. patent laws do not have such a requirement. Look for legislation in 1995 proposing such an amendment to U.S. patent laws.

Under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, the signatory countries only are required to amend their patent laws to provide a patent term that is at least 20 years from filing. Thus, it may be consistent with the language, if not the spirit, of the Act to further amend the U.S. laws to the 17/20 years term.

If you have any questions about these provisions, or would like additional details regarding how any of these amendments affect nanotechnology R&D, please feel free to contact me. My new e-mail address is:
eenayati@ or

© 1995 E. Enayati

Elizabeth F. Enayati, an attorney with Weil, Gotshal & Manges, can be contacted at tel (415) 926-6248; fax (415) 854-3713; email; or send mail c/o Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306.
[Editor's Note: See later columns for Elizabeth Enayati's new affiliation.]

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Recent Events: Senior Associates Confer at Foresight

by Gayle Pergamit

Senior Associates heard new timelines for the arrival of nanotechnology.

Only a short summary of a few meeting highlights can be presented here; more in-depth coverage will follow in later issues. Special thanks go to Steve Vetter and Ed Niehaus for providing their notes on the meeting.

Coming from as far away as England and Italy for the annual meeting of Foresight, IMM, and CCIT Senior Associates, 65 Senior Associates spent two information-packed October days in the Bay Area brainstorming, organizing new nanotechnology businesses, problem solving on next-generation key technical issues, getting updates on current protein-based self-assembly work and assembler design, taking a early look at work-in-progress by Eric Drexler, and continuing the exploration of emerging social issues.

Highlights this year included new timeline estimates for the advent of nanotechnology, the first venture capital networking for nanotechnology-related businesses, and planning for two new Senior Associate work groups to carry out the next generation of Foresight projects. Surrounding a core day of lectures and workshops were parties and social events. Over dinner plates of pasta, or over breakfast tea and scones, we heard business deals coming together and lively debates covering social issues and technical pathways.

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Research update

Eric Drexler's preview of his current work, complete with illustrations that included "system view" diagrams and details of friction, power consumption, and productivity calculations, gave a glimpse of progress at pushing nanotechnology to the next level of practicality. Drexler demonstrated advancing from the design of the individual gears and other components as shown in Nanosystems to the next generation issues of convergent assembly processes for large objects through molecular manufacturing. This new generation of work includes fully elaborated nanomachines and system-level design of simple molecular assemblers.

The realm of convergent assembly promises to produce its own set of classic questions to replace the ones raised and answered during earlier nanotechnology research, such as "won't quantum effects make nanomachines impossible?" The questions we explored with Drexler and the Senior Associates included

"What are the odds of bonding to the wrong atom during an assembly process?"
The odds change as a function of stiffness and temperature. With an easy-to-achieve stiffness of 10 newtons/m, the chances of bonding with the wrong atom when working at room temperature can be less than one in 1015.

"How long will a molecular manufacturing process take to construct a product the size of a bread box?"
By using multiple, parallel paths to build many small molecular components, Drexler calculated that the throughput time--from small molecules at the input side to hefty objects at the output--can easily be less than 100 seconds. Slower speeds would give greater efficiency, however.

"Aren't power dissipation problems going to be intractable? Aren't they going to make molecularly-precise assembly very slow?"
Drexler analyzed the advantages of scaling by increasing the number of robot arms inside a cubic meter "factory" and exploring the changes in friction, power consumption, and productivity. When he finally encountered power dissipation problems, he slowed operations down and still achieved a 0.05 cubic meter, 1 kg mass manufacturing system that hourly converts 1.6 kg of raw feedstock solution and 0.9 kg of atmosphere oxygen into 1.5 kg. of high-purity water and 1 kg of product. The system would throw off 1.1 kW of waste heat and produce 3.6 kW of surplus power.

Drexler discussed how this research work, along with his survey of state-of-the-art progress in self-assembly techniques for an article in Annual Review of Biophysics and Biomolecular Structure, has generated new thoughts on how and when we will likely reach fully-developed nanotechnology. In answer to other classic questions--"how long will it take?" and "will it happen in my lifetime?"--he gave two varieties of "conservative" estimates for the arrival of nanotechnology. "If you are considering the benefits of nanotechnology, it is conservative to plan on 20 years. If you are concerned about competitors getting it first, it is conservative to plan on 10 years. When people say they think we are still 100 years away, all I can ask is 'What do you think researchers will be doing between 2035 and 2045 that will be so difficult that it will leave another half-century of work to reach nanotechnology?' "

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Seed fund for nanotechnology

On the path to full nanotechnology, conference attendees agreed, there are many good possibilities for useful and profitable products. Working with that theme, Senior Associate Steve Vetter introduced fellow Senior Associates to his new seed capital firm devoted specifically to advancing the state-of-the-art of molecular manufacturing: Molecular Manufacturing Enterprises, Inc. (MMEI).

An unusual venture capital firm, MMEI not only seeks for-profit ventures, but also wishes to back a variety of projects including those submitted from non-profit entities, educational institutions, or private investigators, provided that the projects directly advance molecular manufacturing. In addition to capital, MMEI's resources include a range of business and technical expertise brought by its owners: Steve Vetter (software engineer and entrepreneur), Dr. Scott MacLaren (material science researcher and consultant at the University of Illinois), and Tanya Sienko (researcher with the technical policy arm of the Japanese government). MMEI's advisors include Dr. Ralph Merkle of Xerox PARC and Dr. Roald Hoffman, 1981 Nobel laureate in chemistry.

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Trusty computing workshop

With the strong progress being made on the hardware aspects of nanotechnology, Senior Associates took the lead in addressing the critical, lagging item needed for safe, successful nanotechnology development: trustworthy and secure computing environments. With the powerful potentials of nanotechnology moving quickly closer, the need for software that we can trust to design complex nanosystems (and eventually perform cell repair) is fast becoming critical.

Ralph Merkle (one of the inventors of public key encryption, now at Xerox PARC), Mark Miller, and Norm Hardy (developer of KeyKOS, an advanced operating system that offers real security to its users) both of Agorics, Inc., led a heavily attended software workshop. Senior Associates interested in the Trusty Computing project got a crash course in capability-based security systems, the philosophical principles on which security should be based, one-way gate systems, minimalism versus other design philosophies, cryptographic keys, the incentives for security produced by the advent of electronic cash, and posted-prize schemes for breaking and testing security systems. Senior Associates on the project will be contributing to drafts of a paper which defines the security problem and proposes solutions that can be adopted and implemented by the software community at large as a standard.

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And much more...

So much was covered at the meeting that we can't do justice to it here. We plan to cover other aspects of the meeting in future issues: Ralph Merkle on the World WideWeb; Foresight's hypertext project; Ted Kaehler's review of progress on the self-assembly path to nanotechnology with the newest approach to protein folding; CCIT president Jim Bennett's look at the regulatory side of international cooperation on nanotechnology: the successes, failures, potential impact, and best pattern for export controls; and the workshop on social issues led by myself and Foresight director Chris Peterson.

Gayle Pergamit, co-author of Unbounding the Future and guest editor of this issue of Foresight Update, can be reached at

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From Foresight Update 20, originally published 1 February 1995.