Nanotechnology and development

Development Policy06 Jun 2010Nupur Chowdhury

Nanotechnology is an enabling technology that is expected to impact a large number of industrial sectors. It is expected to radically alter existing production processes and also make possible the development of new and innovative capacities of existing products and processes. Nanotechnology in this sense can be compared to biotechnology and ICTs (information and communication technologies), which fuelled similar expectations of large-scale technology changes across many industrial sectors.

Developing countries including Brazil, South Africa, India and China (among others) have all made considerable public investments in nanotechnology. Technology development is seen as a national goal and is therefore part of the state agenda for economic development in these countries. The role of the government is that of technology stewardship.

Global policy debates on nanotechnology development have also focused on the role of nanotechnology in enabling specific social innovations, like filters for clean drinking water, energy storage systems, herbicide delivery systems, etc. [1]. Given the array of applications that nanotechnology can enable, developing countries face important policy choices. Their choices will be determined by a combination of indigenous and exogenous factors.

Indigenous factors include: existing scientific and research capacities; technology development plans of established industrial sectors, and; national developmental priorities. Current scientific research capabilities, both in terms of human and physical resources within the public sector, will influence the direction of research. For instance, the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay has leveraged its position as a leading innovator in electronics to set up the Centre of Excellence in Nanoelectronics. Drug delivery is another area of nano-applications that is being actively pursued by Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Exogenous factors that may influence policy choices include: developing specialized capacities in sectors that are not being developed by other countries; the international patents landscape, and; opportunities for international collaborations. Since nanotechnology is an emerging sector, patenting activity is frenetic. The holding pattern of key patents in this sector, and the general patents landscape across specific sectors, will impact single actors as well as governments, influencing their choice of specialization by making certain sectors (maybe less patented sectors) more attractive than others. Collaborative opportunities available to the research community, both within countries and also internationally, will certainly influence the research direction by providing avenues for learning and dissemination.

[1] (accessed 4 June 2010)