Business Models and Target Industries Influence Nanotechnology Innovation Timelines

Pallab Chatterjee, the vice chairman of the IEEE San Francisco Bay Area Nanotechnology Council, recently penned an article for Electronics Design, Strategy, News (EDN) in which he details the recent announcement that Nanosys Inc. has succeeded in selling its QuantumRail lighting system to LG for its mobile phone applications.

According to Dr. Chatterjee, this announcement heralds the beginning of nanotechnology coming out of its “typical eight- to 10-year gestation period” and making a commercial impact. On the whole, this is correct but the issues of which industry you are trying to introduce an innovation and the business model you select as your vehicle can greatly influence this timeline by years and sometimes to never.

I recently discussed Nanosys’ quantum dot-enabled LED lighting system and I think there are some lessons to be gained from the company finally succeeding in one of its commercial ventures.

The over arching lesson is, of course, if you are a start up you won’t get very far just trying to sell a nanomaterial, but with a device or an entire soup-to-nuts manufacturing process you stand a far better chance of success.

If you go back to one of the first real nanotech success stories, that of Nano-Tex, David Soane didn’t just rely on the idea of how to change the properties of fabrics at the nanoscale but developed the entire process for doing it and in particular he picked an industry for his innovation that was not as closely regulated as other industries.

It appears that this was the key to Nanosys’ recent success as well, as Nanosys’ Victor Hsia commented to my blog post: “Nanosys provides process ready, architected material solutions to the market. As an example of this, Nanosys synthesizes quantum dot phosphor material, which is subsequently packaged in a form called a Quantum Rail. The Quantum Rail is easily integrated into today’s LCD display manufacturing process.”

Another of the key features of both Nano-Tex’s and Nanosys’ success is that textiles and image displays are not heavily regulated like that of say the healthcare industry.

This brings me to Dr. Chatterjee’s second thesis in his article, which is that much of the development we are currently seeing in what he terms the “traditional DSM (deep-submicron)-IC industry” is being reflected in nanomedicine, specifically medical diagnostics.

While this is a keen observation, we are not likely to see innovations so easily introduced into this industry. The built in obstacles to commercially launching any innovation in health care-related applications will result in it taking longer to see developments in these markets. So we better be prepared in some cases to hold our breath longer than 8 to 10 years.

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

 
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Dexter Johnson
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Rachel Courtland
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