Graphene and the “European Paradox”

An article published today in the Financial Times sorely laments the lack of funding in the development of graphene in Europe and the failure of companies to invest in taking the material out of the university and into industry.

The article raises a number of important questions associated with the future control of graphene technologies. It points out the uncomfortable fact that the UK and Europe lead the world in the publication of academic papers but fall considerably far behind the rest of the world when it comes to patents.

According to the report, the UK trails behind the US, China, South Korea, Japan and Germany in holding only 21 patents related to graphene from a global total of 2,224. The US, who lead the world in patents with nearly half of the total, (despite only publishing 25% of the total scientific papers), is slowly being squeezed by the rise of Chinese national and international corporations.

The difficulty Europe has in traversing the high ridge of academia to the steep slopes of industry is, according to the Financial Times, “the European Paradox”. Somehow Europe’s universities and education systems produce minds that can conceive of innovative advances in technology but the continent then struggles to convert those ideas into market leading products.

The lack of integration between industry and education has resulted in a weakening of Europe’s position as far as graphene is concerned. And with graphene promising to disrupt the market across so many different industries, it is a lack of integration that will end up costing those trailing countries dear.

The notion that commercialisation is considered a dirty word by academia is one that has been propagated in a recent New Scientist article by John Fisher CBE, professor of mechanical engineering at Leeds University. The loss of impetus within the graphene economy is a problem that can only be properly addressed by greater levels of integration between academia and industry, and by a longer term investment strategy from companies looking to invest in graphene. The problem with the last point is that most companies are looking for certainty and a decent return within 3-4 years, a position unlikely to be promised by any scientist or developer.

The full article from the Financial Times can be read here

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