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Posted: March 22, 2007

Vertical integration in the nanotechnology industry

(Nanowerk News) The Houston Chronicle reports today that carbon nanotubes (CNT) producer Carbon Nanotechnologies Incorporated (CNI) and Unidym, which is developing carbon-based materials, processes, and devices for the electronics industry, will merge.
Unidymís initial product is a thin, transparent film of carbon nanotubes that replaces the expensive, failure-prone materials currently employed by manufacturers of devices such as touch screens, flat panel displays, and solid state lighting. Unidym is also developing novel CNT-based transistors and conductive inks for the printable electronics industry to replace todayís complex and capital intensive semiconductor manufacturing processes with inexpensive, solution-based printing processes.
CNI, which In late 2004 CNI merged with C Sixty, Inc., a leader in functionalizing fullerenes, was founded by Dr. Richard E. Smalley who was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his co-discovery of Fullerenes. The company has an extraordinary intellectual property position, which is largely based on technology developed by Dr. Smalley. This intellectual property portfolio was licensed exclusively from Rice University and includes more than 100 individual patent filings of which more than 30 have been issued or allowed in the key areas of production and enabling technology.
In theory, this kind of vertical integration could bring a much needed boost for the commercialization of nanotechnology applications. It gives technology start-ups like CNI the opportunity to bring their vision to market faster. It allows manufacturers to a large degree to avoid the patent and royalty problem and develop a smoother product development and production process. CNTs are not a simple raw material like steel or silicon. They are a highly complex material which needs to be synthesized and optimized for certain desired properties, depending on the intended use, and the requirements for post-synthesis processing could be substantial.
CNI with its manufacturing expertise and, most importantly, its patent portfolio clearly has been an attractive target for an industrial manufacturer. Whether Unidym, itself a startup and a subsidiary of nanotechnology commercialization company Arrowhead Research Corporation is the right partner for CNI remains to be seen.
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