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Posted: Apr 1st, 2010
Government of Greece files trademark claim for the term nanotechnology
(Nanowerk Spotlight) Taking the patent land grab to a new level, the government of Greece today, April 1, filed a patent and trademark application for the term nanotechnology with the European Patent Office. The country is thereby seeking the right to prevent third parties from commercially exploiting these and related terms without paying royalties.
“Quite honestly, we are sick and tired at the world’s incessant exploitation of our country’s cultural heritage and the fact that people make billions on the back of our amazing cultural achievements and the inventive talents of our great ancestors” said a spokesperson for the Hellenic parliament.
Notwithstanding the moral high ground the Greek government is trying to occupy, observers note that the real reason for this surprising move is very simple and very down-to-earth: money. Cash-strapped Greece, on the brink of bankruptcy, is desperate for revenues. Greece's massive debt problem has shaken the entire euro zone and undermined the shared currency. Greece's public debt is so high that the country could default - with potentially dire results for the Euro.
Lawyers and consultants have advised the Greek government that royalties from the term nanotechnology and related ‘nano’ terminology could raise billions every year. The same geniuses that have brought us market forecasts of a 3 trillion dollar nanotechnology market by 2015 have now convinced the Greek government that if they levy only a 1% fee this would generate at least $30 billion year-in, year-out for the Greek state coffers. The consultants think that the global market for nanotechnology copyright infringement claims could easily top $500 billion by 2011.
The megabrains’ logic is impeccable: if for instance a $100,000 luxury car features a scratch-free paint finish due to a few liters of paint that contains nanoparticles, then the entire car is a nanotechnology product and therefore the car’s manufacturer would have to pay a $1,000 license fee to Greece.
Hot off the press is the latest market research report “Nanoclaims – how just talking about nano will cost you millions”, followed next week by “Boil the colloids – early adopters make the game-changing quantum leap from here to there”.
“We are talking about a paradigm shift, really,” says on of the reports’ authors. “As the Greek case study clearly demonstrates, thinking outside the box will create synergies between old and new and inevitably lead to a win-win situation.”
Greek finance minister George Papanano is ecstatic. While there still is a lot of haggling going on over a proposed rescue plan from other eurozone nations, revenues from the new royalty sources could start flowing almost immediately and thereby strengthening the country’s negotiating position. "We are already working with investment banks on securitizing our future copyright claims related to nanotechnologies," he says. "These experts told us that collecting our royalties will be like shooting fish in a barrel – these so-called 'Nano Bonds' are practically self-assembling. Taking this top-down approach to an entire industry will create a nice synergy with our solid, bottom-up budgeting principles."
Clearly, the Greeks have had it. Starting with Elgin’s marbles – the controversial removal of marble sculptures from the Parthenon at the beginning of the 19th century and the subsequent refusal of all British governments since then to return them to Greece – and leading all the way to what many Greeks feel is unjust treatment by the European Union over a just a few percentage points too much public debt, there has been an uproar over foreign meddling in Greek affairs. That’s why many Greeks feel the surprising move on patenting nanotechnology terminology is entirely justified.
“They have taken so much from us throughout the centuries – now is our chance to take something back,” says one banker in Athens.
Nanotechnology start-up employees in Athens protesting the proposed new fees.
The basis for the patent filings are the modern terms’ Greek roots nanos and technologia, words both documented thousands of years ago in ancient Greek texts. While philologists say that there is no arguing with the linguistic roots, trademark experts and patent lawyers see long and protracted lawsuit battles at the horizon. At the core of the dispute is the decision to backdate the trademark application to 2500 BC.
“Don’t get me wrong here,” says one legal expert, “it’s not the 4500 year timeframe as such that scares us; on the contrary, we love digging up old files, but it is the precedent it would set for other terms and words that can trace their origins back to antiquity.” The lawyers are especially concerned about Italians following in the footsteps of the Greeks and seeking protection on terms relevant to the legal profession, like the Roman terms ius and lex, the foundation for the words legal, law and justice. “This would seriously cut into our billings,” he complains.
Although the patent and trademarks have not been finally approved yet, governments on both sides of the Atlantic have shifted their contingency planning into high gear. The European Commission is preparing a new call under FP7, funded with 2.5 million Euros and provisionally titled "Support to dialogue and engagement for responsible legal, social and industrial use of nanotechnology terms in avoidance of violation of proposed trademark terms with regard to NMP related European Technology Platforms – coordinating actions and literature review. Phase 1: 2010-2013".
“Right now, we are not too concerned with patent issues – these things are flexible” was the only comment made by a Chinese representative.
At the core of the patent application is a detailed list of nanotechnology terms and products that is grouped into seven major categories – electronics, medicine, materials, equipment & instrumentation, food, cosmetics, and services. Alluding to the industry’s outlook if this patent gets granted, critics have already nicknamed this list Pitchblack and the Seven Dwarfs.
One industry that is clearly unfazed by this development is the food industry. In wise anticipation of brewing troubles, all major food companies like Nestle or Kraft have already years ago purged all references to nanotechnology from their websites (see: "Food nanotechnology - how the industry is blowing it"). The cosmetics industry is not too far behind.
Interestingly, the Greek trademarking efforts are not undisputed within their own country. A group called “Cultural responsibility in the Aegean” has challenged the government's plans. Publishing an essay in the main Greek newspaper Parthenon World News titled “Self-assembling patent claims. What would Aristotle do?” the group strongly condemns the government's move.
“In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that the highest good for humans, the highest aim of all human practical thinking, is eudaimonia, a Greek word often translated as well-being or happiness. And as this happiness depends upon being in accordance with virtue, Aristotle would clearly argue that beautiful terms like nanotechnology, a combination of vávoç and Τεχνoλoγíα, are Greece’s gift to the world and thus shouldn't be exploited for accumulating filthy lucre.” The article goes on for 24 pages but most of it is difficult to understand for someone without a degree in ancient Greek philosophy.
The article's underlying sentiment seems to be resonating with many of its readers. Representative of this is one comment: "Isn't it sad that the people who brought the world great statesmen like Perikles and Aristides now bring it petty lawsuits over trademarks about something too small to be seen even with a regular microscope? (that word, by the way, will also fall under trademark claims in stage two of the Greek plans)"
Apparently, the Greek advance to protecting the term nanotechnology is only the tip of the iceberg. Informed sources have learned that the German government has formed a task force that looks into trademarking and protecting popular product names with clearly German origins. Many consider it a long stretch that the Germans will be successful in linking the word dollar back to its origin in the German Taler – that would be the mother of all royalty fees. Nevertheless, leaked news of this effort already has caused the shares of hamburger chains like McDonalds to drop dramatically.