Who will have the most graphene patents?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| Published: February 6, 2013

Graphene seems to be the material of the year, as companies like Nokia start testing products made with the material on their newest phones. I first learned about graphene when learning about some companies’ plans to build smartphones with bendable displays, but it's been around since about 2004. Aside from being extremely flexible and durable, it’s also the thinnest material known to man at the moment. It’s versatile, and will surely be the forefront of smartphones to come. The demand for graphene will surely continue to grow, so with such potential it's no wonder that companies are piling on top of each other to gain the most patents to it. Currently Samsung is at the front of the line with 407 patents and counting, followed by American company IBM with 134.

Patents, patents, patents; they can be both wonderful and mockery-worthy for companies. Apple is notorious for patenting certain products and features such glass staircases, the “page turn”, and even going so far as to patenting headphones clasps. Should anybody try to copy any of these designs, you can be sure they’ll be slapped in the face with court documents from yours truly, Apple’s legal team. While patents are important for keeping a product unique and desired, sometimes the unimportant things would be better left alone (i.e. glass staircases? Come on. Who looks at that and says, “Hey, isn’t the company that makes iPhones the same people that made this staircase?”) Likewise, some of the important things would be better (for the customer) if shared amongst companies. My fear for graphene patents is that it’s going to be limited to only one or two platforms.

If graphene is something that can help the prevention of so many broken screens or ensure more durable devices it should be available to people of all platform preferences. Whether you like iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone you should be able to have the confidence that your phone will be able to last you the 2+ years you’re looking at until your next upgrade. While 20-24 months for an upgrade is already hard in its own right due to the fast-paced nature of this industry and how swiftly your software becomes outdated, it’s also hard on the housing of the device as well. As I mentioned in my article “Risky business: Five dangerous situations our phones encounter” I talked about that some people just want to be able to enjoy the phone as is, but it’s hard whenever the materials used to make such lovely designs are so fragile.

Unfortunately, every company sharing graphene with each other is only nice in theory and will probably never happen. That’s just not how businesses work. When you’re a business owner, you seize every opportunity because if you don't somebody else most certainly will. Graphene is one of those things that people will likely clamor over to have as part of their phone, just as companies are clamoring for patents over the material. The potential for new customers from this aspect alone is enough to create a heated atmosphere between companies to try and claim as many rights as possible.

Graphene could be a game-changer in this industry if the right company got enough patents. However, since Samsung is already so far ahead of any other company I find it unlikely that anybody else will end up with more patents. Readers, who do you think will win the patent race with graphene? Will Samsung once again dominate and continue to stay on top? Let me know what you think in the comments!