Taking The NanoPulse -- Leadership In Nanotechnology

Our nation's leaders recognize what's at stake.

Three days. 25 meetings. Face-to-face interactions with over 50 federal legislative and executive branch decision-makers. Those are the facts and figures of the recent NanoBusiness Alliance public policy tour I attended in Washington, D.C. with 28 other nanotechnology corporate, academic and development leaders. It was truly an eye-opening trip. America's leadership in this emerging technology race is at stake, and Washington knows it.

Everywhere we went -- from President Bush's Office of Science and Technology Policy to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee -- our leaders were hungry for data on the topic of America's nanotech leadership and ways to help maintain it. Here's the Nanobusiness community's top line: to be globally competitive in nanotechnology requires that America begins now to move beyond government support of academic research and infrastructure toward addressing real, substantive, commercialization (i.e. money) issues. Now let me share with you a few of the facts behind the viewpoint.

Nanotechnology is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, key to virtually every area of manufacturing in the years ahead. It's estimated that nanotech will become integral in 15% of global manufacturing output in the next 10 years alone, reaching a total of $2.6 trillion by 2014. The highest-leverage opportunities are in energy, electronics and health care, which dovetail with the Bush Administration's goals for U.S. energy independence and breakthroughs in the quality and cost of health care. Moreover, the countries that win the innovation race and capture the most value from nanotech progress will see the results in the overall health of their economy.

The good news is that the U.S. currently leads the world in nanotechnology. The not-so-good news: we're going to be challenged to retain it. And our global competitors are gaining fast. Japan, South Korea, Germany and Taiwan lead the pack, and Israel and Singapore are showing growing strength in several industries.

Let's take a look at some statistics. Today, American funding of nanotechnology innovation and commercialization is matched or exceeded by Asian competitors when measured on a per capita basis and relative to GDP. As a group, they aren't yet surpassing the U.S. in total number of patents, but they are beginning to nose us out in some specific applications, including some areas of electronics.

Our foreign competitors have another advantage. In both Asia and Europe, there are substantial incentives for those who support nanotech commercialization. Funding supports corporations working on joint development projects with academic or government enterprises. This approach helps guide efforts to real-world products that meet real-world needs.

So what are the nanotech community's recommendations to policymakers for maintaining competitive strength? At the top of the list of is what I consider to be a key driver for success in a free economy: incentives for investors. In this case, the suggestion is for an R&D tax incentive for those who buy stock in U.S. nanotechnology companies. The proposal provides the best checks and balances of the market. Good ideas can attract investors, providing enough of a front-end benefit for the investors to be patient with commercialization lead times. At the same time, the hard reality of market forces may prove to be the wisest judge of the best and most promising efforts and companies. It usually is.

Early support of this approach is already evident in Washington. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts has drafted legislation on a tax credit. With the powerhouse of MIT and other nanotechnology giants in his state, it's no wonder he's among the first to see the potential. Let's hope others -- on both sides of the aisle -- see the advantage.

There were several other topics on the docket for maintaining -- or increasing -- U.S. competitiveness in a global market, including continued support of research and capital investments, developing a workable Environmental, Health & Safety policy, encouraging graduate-level science education and strong enforcement patents. To read the full agenda, visit www.nanobusiness.org.

So, what does all this mean to you and your company? First, it means you need to be engaged with your legislators on the topic. It's too important to America for any of us to sit idly by. Do you know where you can have the most impact? Get your nano-plans on the front burner -- whether you're a buyer or seller of nano-products. Your government wants and needs you to succeed!

Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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