As I write this column, I'm preparing to board an airplane for Washington, D.C. to take part in the nanotechnology Public Policy Tour of the NanoBusiness Alliance. It's my fourth opportunity to be a resource for members of Congress and the Administration on nanotechnology issues -- and the most promising one yet. Each year the interest, understanding and commitment grows.
The foundation is well laid: the crucial need to be globally competitive, the public-private partnership for innovation and the environmental imperatives. Programs are in place and working. Now, Uncle Sam is picking up speed in every area. And this policy tour will bring more fuel to the engine.
What's on the agenda? Let's take a look.
The Research Competitiveness Act of 2007 heads the list. Though it's early in the process for this bill introduced January 4 of this year by Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, we want to lend a hand. Why? The bill provides tax credits for company research and experimentation costs. It's good news for a lot R&D-heavy companies, but it's a lifesaver to young nanotechnology start-ups.
Here's why. The law Senator Baucus is proposing would replace a 1981 law that relates an R&E tax credit to sales. Guess what? Nanotech start-ups don't have sales! So, at a time when seed money for start-ups is especially tight, this bill recognizes the need to support the type of researcher-entrepreneurs who have made America a nano-nation.
This bill also recognizes another reality of research investing: make the law permanent, not temporary. The 1981 law has been extended 11 times and even allowed to lapse once. No less than the experts at the Joint Committee on Taxation wrote: "Perhaps the greatest criticism of the R&E credit among taxpayers regards its temporary nature." A 2- or 3-year horizon is fearfully short in new technologies. Investors need to know that there will be time for ideas to become products and in turn become profitable.
This new bill also helps foster nano-projects and other technologies by providing incentives for creation of research parks. State and local governments could issue tax-exempt bonds for the purpose, and private research entities would benefit from inexpensive buildings, lower rents and a built-in research community.
Environmental, Health and Safety issues also continue to have a top priority for the nanotech industry, and we'll be working in Washington to keep our efforts aligned with theirs. We'll sit down with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. We'll be talking about the voluntary initiatives going on in the industry, hear about future plans and discuss how we can continue to work together for the common good. And the conversation is sure to turn to money.
It's estimated that $100 million will be needed to fund environmental, health and safety research. We'll be sitting with member of President Bush's The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and the National Nanotechnology Initiative about the whys, hows and wherefores of making that important next step.
We'll also be making a stop in the U.S. Patent Office. Why? Nanotechnology is so new and developing so quickly, it's a challenge to the patent examiners to keep up with the most current knowledge. We'll provide an overview of advances they may expect in the coming year, which can help them police the quality and defendability of patents.
That's the story --- and now I'm on my way to that airplane bound for Washington, D.C. The policy tour will be only 72 hours, but they may be the most important three days industry and government leaders will spend together. At stake is the potential of U.S. innovations in nanotechnology to cure cancer, provide cheap, renewable energy and clean water, lessen our environmental impact, lead to the next generation of high-performance materials and change the future of computing and electronics. I'll let you know how it goes.
Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd, located in Valley View, Ohio. His e-mail address is [email protected].