THE GRAPHENE PATENT TRAP

 

How disruptive research fraud at Manchester University will

prevent European countries from exploiting graphene

  

Graphene was isolated at Manchester University in 2004.

In the same year Bill Courtney started his campaign to expose research fraud at the University, relating to SALi Technology .

The illustrations below highlight some of the hometown links between SALi and graphene.

They also show how a cover-up of research fraud may have cost Britain dearly.

 

The power of patent law means that most of the £50 million British government and one billion Euro European funding for graphene research is likely to be wasted.

As you will read, this calamity was entirely self inflicted, because in hiding research fraud, Manchester University also lost its specialist patenting know-how.

On the brighter side, we also suggest how the establishment of a European 2D Materials Intelligence Office could minimise the threats to the massive European investment in graphene research.

 

An overview of this self inflicted calamity

 

1             The graphene patent trap
 

(i)                   Suppose the academic gossip is that a new application for graphene looks possible.

(ii)                  A foreign competitor responds by filing a cunningly written patent to provide blanket protection for this class of graphene products. This can be based purely on intelligent guesswork; no expensive research has to be done.

(iii)                 In accordance with international patent laws, the details of this patent application remain secret until about eighteen months after the patent has been filed.

(iv)                 Meanwhile, the academics have obtained funding to investigate their idea. They do all of the clever lab work and come up with a viable product. They belatedly file a patent and publish their research in a journal paper.

(v)                  At the last possible moment, the foreign patent holder reveals their patent and claims all manufacturing rights for the product.

 

2             The corruption that allowed Britain and the rest of the EU to fall into the trap

 

Prior to 2004 when graphene was isolated, Bill Courtney was an engineering research fellow at Manchester University. He worked closely with the business arm of the University and had written six patent applications for them. He also understood how the patent trap works.

Unfortunately, by 2004, the honest business manager and two outstanding engineers that Bill had worked with, decided to leave the new amalgamated Manchester University.

Bill now found himself ostracised by his remaining Manchester colleagues because he refused to collude with them in hiding research and financial fraud.

In 2010, when the hot money was on the Manchester academics that had isolated graphene, winning the Nobel Prize, the University delivered its long awaited formal enquiry report into Bill’s complaints.

 

The enquiry panel was chaired by the Head of Physics at Manchester University, who had also co-written a paper on graphene with the future Nobel Prize winners.

 

The panel cleared the Manchester SALi researchers of all wrongdoing and concluded that Bill had abused his rights as a research fellow.

But, as we explain in Appendix Three on this linked webpage, the panel was only able to come to its conclusions by creating a body of false evidence that made Bill look dishonest and incompetent by academic standards.

The panel had failed to interview the honest business manager and two outstanding engineers. So there was nobody to defend Bill against this false evidence.

 

A few months later the graphene researchers won their well deserved Nobel Prize.

The consequences were both good and bad becasuse public money was poured into British and other European graphene research.

But this came at a price, because Manchester University found itself having to create more and more false evidence, to hide the original research fraud.

For example, in 2015, Professor Georghiou, the Vice-President for Research and Innovation at the University came up with an ingenious excuse for refusing an instruction from the EPSRC to hold a fresh enquiry into Courtney's complaints.

 

So the story of the fraud remains hidden and Bill’s professional name remains tarnished.

 

 

 

 

Introduction
 

European researchers are naïve in their understanding of patent law. As a result, they have fallen into the patent trap.

Their naïve belief
“We will do good honest graphene research, make discoveries and then file patents to protect our IP.”

This is naïve because patent law favours the first to file a patent, not the brilliant scientists who make the discoveries.
 

The patent trap
Three know-how tricks are required to spring the trap.
 

The first trick is to file as many primary patents as possible, claiming broad areas of graphene intellectual property.

The second trick is to make educated guesses about future graphene trends and then file patent applications before the research is done.

The third trick is to keep quiet, and with luck, as we will explain, the naïve European researchers will do  the expensive research for you.

 

To understand how lethal this trap is, you need to know how to write a primary graphene patent.

We will show you how.

Then we explain how the trap could have been avoided if patents had been filed before the first graphene research paper was published by Manchester University in in 2004.

Finally, you will read how an attempt to cover up research fraud at Manchester University destroyed Europe's best chance of avoiding the patent trap.

Europe can still salvage something from the graphene revolution by setting up a European Graphene Intelligence Office  We explain how.

 

[This article refers to "SALi". Readers coming straight to this page can learn about SALi by following the links at the bottom of the page.]

Background
Bill Courtney is a private inventor with limited financial resources. He had to figure out a detailed exploitation strategy before filing his first SALi patent application in 1996. This article refers to a number of know-how tricks that he developed between 1986 and 1996 by spending his Saturday mornings studying the large collection of patent literature in Manchester Central Library.

 

Q. Are SALi and graphene similar technology breakthroughs?

A. Well, no and yes. Graphene is a more fundamental scientific discovery, so it is almost arrogant to refer to SALi in the same sentence.
Nevertheless, there are some intriguing similarities.
(i) In both cases the basic building materials have been known for many years.
(ii) Graphene derives its unique set of physical properties from a matrix pattern at the atomic level and SALi derives its physical properties from a matrix arrangement of capsules on a visible scale.
(iii) Both were "discovered" in Manchester and researched at the same University.
(iv) There are also financial similarities. Manchester University is in a position to earn royalties from its graphene patents and Bill had signed an agreement to hand over 50% of any royalties earned from all SALi patents.

Bill Courtney discovered SALi in 1986, two decades before the 2004 graphene breakthrough.

Back in 2003, before its amalgamation with UMIST, Bill  was a Research Fellow at Manchester University. He had a strong working relationship with the business arm of the University and had written six patent applications for them.

By 2004 Manchester should have been ideally poised to tap into the far greater potential of graphene, but the SALi cover-up prevented the transfer of patenting know how.


A double loss
There is evidence that SALi is now being developed in China and the first commercial graphene products are coming from the USA.

 

Q. Manchester University claims that patents relating to the early work on graphene were not possible. http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=9552

Can you explain why you disagree?

A. It costs nothing to submit a patent application, but some fees need to be paid within the first year. [Details will be provided below.]

Bill Courtney had the required expertise and had already written six patent applications for Manchester University at no cost. He was happy to do the same again for graphene. So the University did not even need to incur patent agent fees.

(Declaration of interests: His contacts at the business arm of the Victoria University of Manchester did provide him with decent cups of tea and Clive Rowlands, his business contact at pre-amalgamation UMIST gave him a very tasty prawn sandwich lunch. But these were the limits of Bill's material rewards.)

Failing to submit a patent application before the publication of the first graphene paper was completely and bafflingly reckless because the early costs were negligible

 

Third party evidence to support this allegation

In written evidence to the UK Parliament Science & Technology Committee Inquiry into graphene (April 2016), graphene expert and entrepreneur, Tim Harper, wrote,

 

(Bill Courtney has also made a written submission to this inquiry.)

 

Why Bill Courtney would have been the ideal person to write graphene patent applications within days of being asked

The most important part of any patent application is the first claim where the inventive step is defined. This is a one sentence statement pinning down what is new about the invention.
A strong first claim is worded sufficiently tightly to differentiate it from all other inventions, but sufficiently wide to prevent competitors from getting round it.
Bill spent ten years developing this writing skill before filing his first SALi patent. The visual similarity between SALi and graphene meant that this skill could have been used to generate at least four graphene patent applications before the first graphene research paper was published.

Some of Bill's know-how tricks

(i) The Patent Office (now rebranded as The Intellectual Property Office in the UK) only demands that an invention is clearly defined, new and plausible, so patents can be filed long before the detailed research evidence is available. This was certainly true for SALi.
(ii) The Patent Office keeps the contents of the application secret for about eighteen months, but the applicant is free to publish details at any time, once they have proof of filing.
(iii) The patenting system allows information to be removed from an application before it is published, but no new information can be added. Bill uses this to good effect when writing patent applications. If an invention "looks right" but there is some ambiguity about the precise mechanisms involved he will include two or more variations on the description by including a few paragraphs beginning, "In another version of the invention  ........". Then, some months after submitting the application, when the mechanisms become clear, the incorrect statements will be deleted. Modifying an application in this way adds £50 to the  international patent filing fees.

 

 

 

 

 

 Figure 1. The visual similarity between drawings of SALi and graphene are a patent writer’s delight because the form of words Bill developed for writing SALi patents can be transferred to graphene.

Q. What is the specific patenting know how that could have been transferred to graphene?

 A.  It is not obvious to the casual observer, but both inventions involved similar inventive steps.

The SALi inventive step
SALi was the world’s first viable material that exhibited novel crash protection properties because its composite matrix nature combined the load spreading and viscous damping mechanisms of a liquid with the cushioning of a theoretical "stiff gas".

By incorporating words to this effect in their first claims, three patents were granted [1, 2, 3]. Unfortunately these had to be abandoned when Manchester University covered up the fraudulent research and Bill ran out of funds.

The graphene inventive step
Graphene was the world’s first viable material that exhibited novel mechanical, electrical and optical properties related to a one atom thick crystalline structure. By mimicking the wording of the earlier SALi first claims it is quite likely that at least three graphene patents would have been obtained. A fourth patent could have been obtained for the ingenious Manchester graphene manufacturing process.

Q. Can you illustrate what a graphene first claim would look like?

A. Yes, here is one relating to the Manchester graphene manufacturing process.

 First we will write a narrow claim that would just about satisfy the Patent Office.

"1  According to the first claim there is a method for manufacturing sheets of graphene comprising a block of graphite and a length of Scotch tape (RTM) with the Scotch tape being applied to the surface of the graphite, then peeled off so that a thin block of graphite is removed, with the process being used iteratively, using fresh strips of Scotch tape until a single atom thick layer of crystalline carbon, otherwise known as graphene is left deposited on the tape."

(The commercial name "Scotch tape" would raise eyebrows at the Patent Office but we include it for illustrative purposes. Scotch tape was used in the historical Manchester manufacturing process.)

 

 Now we will write the first claim broadly to cover both graphene and any similar laminar crystalline matter that might be discovered in the future. We are also aiming to cover any manufacturing process that is based on removing thin layers.

Know-how trick It is important to note that the first claim below is so broadly written that it may be rejected by the Patent Office because it has been anticipated by another patent applicant, describing an entirely different invention. But being so vague is part of the cunning patent writers strategy because it helps to flush out the competition. If the Patent Office rejects this first claim, it can always be resubmitted (at no extra cost) as a more precise claim.
The reverse is not true. You cannot write a broader first claim at a later date, if it does not tally with the original invention description submitted to the Patent Office.

This is our all encompassing first claim:

"1  According to the first claim there is an exfoliation method for manufacturing extremely thin, especially one atom thick sheets or flakes of crystalline material that are bonded by strong inter-atomic cohesive forces in the x-y Cartesian coordinate plane and are bonded by weak inter-atomic cohesive forces in the x-z and y-z Cartesian coordinate planes, comprising a massive block of the crystalline material and a means of using chemical, thermal, electrical, mechanical or any other form of energy to do work to overcome the weak forces in the x-z and y-z planes, characterised by the work done being insufficient to overcome the stronger inter-atomic cohesive forces in the x-y plane, so that the flake remains intact in this plane, with the method being used repeatedly until ultimately, if required, a single atom thick sheet of crystalline material is manufactured, with the size of the low crystalline defect flakes being significantly larger than prior art exfoliation methods."

[Exfoliation techniques were known prior to the Manchester isolation of graphene. For example, drawing a line with a graphite "leaded" pencil on a sheet of ground glass is essentially an exfoliation technique. But the earlier methods did not yield such large, relatively defect free flakes, amenable to research, as the Scotch tape method. It was the discoveries that the Manchester researchers made, once they had access to this new generation of larger graphene flakes that made them worthy of the Nobel Prize.
Courtney learned about these cruder prior art techniques for use in making high precision electrical resistors, when he studied Applied Physics at university in the 1960's.

For a modern equivalent to this 1960's resistor manufacturing technique visit http://www.troelsgravesen.dk/graphite.htm

The Description section of the patent application would have referred to these prior art methods and provided quantitative comparative details to justify the "significantly larger" wording of the first claim.
As a "belt and braces" precaution, second and higher number claims would have been included, that made specific numerical reference to the degree of improvement, compared with the earlier exfoliation techniques.]

 

 Know-how trick
The phrase,
                 "
a means of using chemical, thermal, electrical, mechanical or any other form of energy to do work"

would have been described by way of several illustrative examples in the Description section of the application. The patent writer would have gained this information by asking the graphene researchers to speculate wildly about all possible (and even faintly plausible) mechanisms that could be used to break the weak bonds between layers of graphene.
The illustrative examples would be given individual protection by detailed claims after the first claim. For example, one claim would make specific reference to the use of a tool having a flat face coated with an adhesive coating, with the tool face being applied to the block in contact with the x-y plane and then work being done as it was moved away in the z direction. (That's the Scotch tape method, but without mentioning the name!)

 Know-how trick
To prove that the new exfoliation technique was an improvement on the prior art, a claim would be written that compared the new invention and prior art flake sizes. For example, the second claim could read,

"2  An invention according to the first claim, with the experimentally determined minimum surface area of one flat face of a typical manufactured flake being (insert value), compared with a maximum surface area of one flat face of a typical flake, manufactured using the most effective of the prior art exfoliation methods, of (insert value), that is, an approximate improvement in high quality two dimensional crystalline surface area of (inset value) %"

Know-how trick
A patent application is an entirely different animal to a research paper. The honest paper writer sticks to what they know to be true. The shrewd patent writer can describe what they hope to be true. A second difference is that all published researchers can claim credit for everything novel they have discovered. But, if they can afford the best lawyers, the broadly written patent holder can claim exclusive manufacturing rights exploiting anything anyone has discovered, provided that it falls within the wording of their claims.

Know-how trick
Further claims would describe detailed elaborations on the manufacturing process, for example using soft faced adhesive coated rollers as the tools. These claims would be based on speculations from anyone with potentially relevant expertise within the University.
Graphene by name
Graphene would only be graced with its own claim when all plausible manufacturing mechanisms consistent with the first claim had been. listed .

Know-how trick - Don't get greedy
The broader the scope of a patent first claim, the more vulnerable it is to challenge by skilled patent lawyers.
To avoid expensive patent right battles in the courts it would only have been necessary to grant manufacturing licenses to any company that wanted one and agree on affordable royalties. By affordable we mean that paying royalties works out cheaper than litigation.
This trick was known to the business arm of Manchester University in the pre-graphene era because the Manchester University-Cheshire Innovation collaboration was prepared to use it to enforce SALi patents without entering into expensive legal battles.

Manufacturing companies such as Apple and Dyson only end up in the courts because they use patents to maintain a monopoly for their product designs. Universities are not into large scale manufacturing and have no interest in specific product monopolies.

Know-how trick-testing the feasibility of our (fictional) manufacturing first claim.
For potentially internationally important inventions where UK public funds are involved an accelerated search can be requested from the Patent (Intellectual Property) Office. This costs £130 and gives the applicant early information about patentability before the costly international filing stage is entered.

What Britain has lost
Credibility for commercial commonsense: The University saved £130 by failing to file a patent application, then requesting an accelerated search. This penny pinching is is the equivalent of a few minutes running costs for our National Graphene e Institute. (Or buying 60 rolls of Scotch Tape.) It sets a bad example and is very demoralising to the next generation of British entrepreneurs to emerge from our universities.
Income for Britain:
If enforced internationally,
our fictional graphene manufacturing patent alone would have enabled Britain to earn a royalty on all graphene manufacturing techniques world wide, provided that the technique required the separating out of flakes of graphene from a more massive block of carbon.
[To reduce the chances of this sort of expensive mistake being made again, we propose the setting up of Applied Research Institutes.]

 

Supporting evidence from Tim Harper's written submission to the UK Parliament Science & Technology Committee Inquiry into graphene (April 2016)

 

 

 

The curse of the broadly written patent

In the hands of a benign University, broadly written patents can be a force for good because they keep the research and development opportunities open.
But if they fall into the hands of large corporations with powerful legal teams they create monopolies, killing off the small but nimble footed entrepreneurs.

Example
Our fictional graphene manufacturing patent above extends to manufacturing techniques yet to be discovered.
A powerful corporation could have used it to completely throttle the development of a whole class of graphene manufacturing processes.
 

The phoney war
Don't be fooled by the absence of patent litigation to date. The corporate lawyers will only move in when graphene products start earning profits.

 

Figure 2. Academic researchers may not like it, but in patent wars, the battle cry is,

"Never mind the quality, feel the width!"

 

 

Q. How could this claim writing formula have been used to protect the mechanical, electrical,  optical and other physical properties of graphene.

A. The first claim relating to each of these properties would be conceptually split into two parts.

In the first part the specific property would need to be pinned down without being over precise. For example

"......    a material exhibiting high tensile strength in the x-y Cartesian coordinate plane, comparable with or exceeding the tensile strength of known metals and composite materials used by experts for adding structural strength to products   ........."

In the second part, this material property would be linked to the specific single atom thickness crystalline structure. 
This second part of the First Claim sentence could start off as follows, "...characterised by the present invention being an improvement on the prior art by virtue ....."

Know-how trick

Quite intentionally the second part of the first claim could be written  so broadly that it (probably) overlapped with existing patents. This trick exposes the patent competition when the application is subjected to its Preliminary Examination by the Patent Office.  In anticipation of an overlap with existing inventions, a whole host of additional (higher number), more specific claims would be written. Following the Preliminary Examination, these detailed  claims could be cannibalised to strengthen the first claim.

Know-how trick- create a patent writing factory
The number of graphene patents that could have been written to our formula was limited only  by the researchers' imaginations. Thanks to copying and pasting the incremental writing time for successive applications would decrease rapidly.

Know-how trick
It costs nothing to submit a patent application in the UK and obtain an application number. (But an application fee of £20 has to be paid if the application is taken forward to the Search stage, where the patent examiner carries out a background check on the novelty of the first claim.) So for each of the potential properties identified by the researchers several patent applications having similar descriptions but different first claims could be written. Then, following publication of the first graphene research paper, feedback from external research institutions would be evaluated. In the light of this, the patent applications with the most promising looking first claims would be taken forward to the Search stage (£130 for a world search by the UK Office) and all other versions withdrawn.
There is no fee for withdrawing a patent application and its contents are never revealed by the Patent Office.

 

The other side of the story

On this webpage, http://umip.com/graphene-patenting/, the business arm of Manchester University, explains why, based on independent expert advice, it failed to file patent applications to protect graphene.

But:

1 We argue that at least four patents applications should have been filed.
In addition to protecting the manufacturing process, the novel links between the electrical, mechanical and optical properties of 2 dimensional graphene like crystalline materials should have been protected.
The University defence only relates to the manufacturing process.

2 The UK Intellectual Property (Patent) Office offers an amazing bargain price service that beats anything offered by private sector experts. For approximately £130, any inventor can obtain a world class examination of the prior art inventions using a database that goes back several hundred years. AND, at no extra cost, gain provisional protection for their invention for about eighteen months.
[The precise fees depend on how you go about filing your patent application. Details can be obtained at
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/patent-forms-and-fees]

3. The fact that so many patents have been granted for graphene related inventions since 2004 is proof that carefully crafted graphene patent applications can succeed.

4. Arguing that a patent application may not have succeeded, so the University did not bother submitting one, is a council of despair. Britain needs to be bolder than this, if it is going to rebuild itself as a modern manufacturing nation.

What would the great Victorian engineers such as Brunel, Reynolds, George and Robert Stephenson have thought of such timidity?

 

Graphene patents: The state of play
At the time of Cambridge IP’s study in December 2012,
Chinese entities had published 2,204 graphene-related patents,
while US players took 1,754 patents published.
South Korean organizations staked a claim to 1,160 technologies,
while British researchers trailed behind with 54 published patents.”

A world total of 7,350 applications have been filed.
www.pcpro.co.uk/news/interviews/379360/how-the-uk-risks-missing-out-in-graphene-economy

Comment
This rate of patent filing is probably unique in the history of invention. We will explain below how this poses a unique threat to the British/European commercial development of graphene.

 

Q. Would four more patents filed by Manchester University have made that much difference to the UK economy?

A. Yes, they could have made a massive difference. The lost patenting opportunities discussed above were for primary graphene patents. These are the very broad patents that are only available at the earliest stages of any technology. They are the most cost effective because they offer the highest ratio of royalties to patenting costs. They are also important in creating manufacturing jobs in the home economy because primary patents are a unique magnet for international investment.
This is why: A University demonstrating outstanding skills in winning primary graphene patents could offer "first to know" information to businesses setting up in its science park. This would give insider businesses a competitive edge.
In contrast, a University filing very few graphene patents has little insider market intelligence to offer. 
Patent rights will always trump research genius. So the strong graphene patent holding countries will get stronger and the weak will get weaker.

 

A timeline for the rolling strategy that should have been used to convert Manchester into "graphene city"

This strategy required seeding by filing the first batch of primary graphene patents before the first graphene research paper was published.

Manchester University was in a unique position to make this plan work. The proto-plan for a Manchester "graphene city" was the earlier collaborative work between Bill Bill Courtney and the business arm of the University to make Manchester into a SALi research hub. For evidence supporting this claim see Appendix 1 below.

Know-how trick for attracting business to the Manchester science park
Holding the primary patent rights would have put Manchester in a strong position to negotiate
reciprocal IP licensing rights if one of the local graphene development businesses found that its secondary patents were in competition with those of a foreign company.

 

Q. What would the early costs, while the market was being tested, have been?

A. It costs nothing to file a patent application and no costs are incurred for at least six months. An investment of £2,000 per patent for a worldwide WIPO application would then have extended international protection for up to two years. Two year protection for the UK alone would have cost £130 per application.

Know-how trick
Broadly written applications restricted to the UK would have reduced the foreign threat even if they were abandoned after publication because they would have acted as "spoilers" for the massive number of Chinese, South Korean and US applications. They would also have provided useful but weak copyright protection at no maintenance cost until twenty years after the death of the patent authors. This strategy would have benefited the UK with its outstanding research strengths, rather than gifting graphene technology to the most prolific patent filing nations.
 

Q. Why would "spoiler" applications have benefited the UK with its strong research base?

A. The power of the 7,296 graphene patents that have been filed by other countries is working against the UK. Some of these patents will have been written based on educated guesses, rather than research evidence. [Using the know how tricks discussed above.] But UK researchers will not know about this until eighteen months after filing, when the applications are published. This will be an ongoing threat for as long as graphene patents are filed by our overseas competitors.


Consequences  All UK (and European) graphene research will have to be done with fingers crossed, hoping that it does not violate a a filed, but unpublished patent application.

Many research-hours and a lot of public money is likely to be wasted as a result.

 

A timeline for graphene investment failure

 
The patent trap

 
All inventions face an 18 month period of uncertainty, but graphene is unique because of the abnormally high rate at which graphene patents are being filed. The chances of making a commercial breakthrough will decrease with time as the total number of graphene patents filed increases.
If the British/European researchers choose to publish their research as conference or journal papers then the foreign competitor is quite entitled to learn from it. This means that British and other European tax payers end up subsidising graphene commercialisation outside the EU.

If Manchester University had taken out primary patents to protect the core graphene intellectual property (IP) this external threat would largely have been eliminated.

 

Here is an example of the patent trap in action

The following story at  http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=9795
reads like a smart investment of public funds for Great Britain PLC.

 

But, the American company Lockheed Martin is already working on graphene based filtering membranes

http://www.businessinsider.com/lockheed-martin-desalination-graphene-filters-2013-3
 

If Lockheed Martin's patent agents have done their job correctly, Britain will foot the research bill while Lockheed Martin gains the financial benefits.

It will be several years before the patent lawyers move in and British taxpayers discover they have been outfoxed by Lockheed Martin.

 

 

Know-how trick - "spoilers"
Ideally, in a noble world, we Brits and other Europeans should have led the graphene revolution  by doing good research and attracting manufacturing interest to Europe, not by writing cunning patent applications.

Unfortunately the law is on the side of the patent holders so we have to abandon noble ideals and use patent law to our advantage.
If the prospect of taking several graphene patents through the expensive international stages was too daunting, here is what we should have done:.
 

During the early months and years when graphene intellectual property speculation was rife, we should have been filing broadly written "spoiler" applications at every conceivable opportunity. For each patent application there would have been several months of grace before deciding to invest the £130 required for the application to be taken forward to publication. Following publication no competitor could have gained a strong patent in this broad area of graphene technology. The big industrial players such as Samsung and IBM would still have been prolific patent filers, but these secondary patents would have been restricted to niche products.

Know-how trick for "spoiler" applications
The sole purpose of a spoiler patent application is to prevent the large corporations monopolising a new technology. Spoilers can be written quickly and to a lower standard than a genuine application. They can include dozens, even hundreds of patent claims that are mutually contradictory. It is still vital to file spoilers at the earliest possible date in order to beat the large corporations to the Patent Office.

Paradoxically graphene spoiler patents could reduce long term costs for all organisations involved in commercially exploiting graphene because many of the patents granted will have expired before their related products reach the market.
 

Example: a "spoiler" application eliminating the Lockheed Martin threat
Within days of recognising the filtering possibilities for graphene, a broad patent application linking its semi-permeable membrane properties to the high uni-plane tensile strength of graphene should have been filed.
The University would then have had eleven months after filing in which to decide whether:
(i)  to leave the application as a "spoiler" at a total cost of  £130.
(ii) take it forward as a low cost UK application (less than £100 extra to keep the application in play for a further two years)
(iii) proceed along the  expensive world-wide application route.

With the lowest cost "spoiler" option,
Lockheed Martin would still have been able to obtain a secondary patent limited to a highly specific graphene based desalination method. But crucially, they would not have been a market dominating primary patent holder threat to Manchester University and UK based manufacturers.

 

Know-how trick for genuine patents - writing broad graphene patents for known devices
Broad classes of graphene based devices such as capacitors, diodes, transistors and photo-electric cells are (were) patentable, provided that their novelty is demonstrated to the Patent Office by linking their operating principles to the novel 2-D structure of graphene. As for our manufacturing example above, the patents would have been written broadly and included many patent claims. Hopefully, such patents would have been big money earners for Britain, but at the very least they would have acted as spoilers, freeing researchers from the tyranny of eighteen months of patent ignorance.
But, to gain these broad patents they had to be filed before the first graphene paper was published and the research community started speculating about the possibility of any of these devices.

 

 Recap:
The most important k
now-how tricks

In order to accelerate the pace of international graphene research (and bring graphene royalties into the UK at an early date) all public and private research institutes world wide would have been granted free licences to do research on Manchester’s primary IP, provided that they agreed to pay a modest royalty  if commercial products were developed. Keeping the future royalties low would have avoided legal arguments about such contracts.

Secondary patents covering niche improvements on the primary Manchester patents would still be winnable by the licence holders, but the threat of  industrial giants monopolising  graphene development would be eliminated.

 

 

The harm done to young entrepreneurs
The biggest breakthroughs in any new technology tend to come from young, energetic , fast moving and open minded individuals setting up their own companies. In the case of graphene, the vested interests of large corporations  holding blanket patents, the abnormally high rate of patent filing and the eighteen month period of patent ignorance combine to create a unique threat to new players in the history of technology. Many promising enterprises will be set up, only to collapse within two years.
Even small companies that have been granted graphene patents are not immune. The patenting system is not perfect and competitive patents are only worth something after they have been tested in the courts. But, the litigation threat will lie dormant until the small company starts to make a profit.
This perfect storm of threats to investment will make it difficult for small enterprises to raise venture capital.

The forthcoming graphene era is unlikely to be driven by a new "Steve Jobs" or "Bill Gates".

Read the history books and you will see; Jobs and Gates only succeeded because they got their hands on the primary intellectual property.
 

Lesson to be learned: Intimidating and unethical University behaviour does not pay

When Manchester University published the world's first research paper on graphene before filing primary patent applications it acted unwisely. Britain lost a one-off chance to dominate the new graphene era.

Also, by failing to file primary patents and then licence them freely, it has assisted the powerful corporations in eliminating the small company competition.
 

Mean while, as we reveal on the PedSALi and CrashSALi pages, it destroyed its specialist patenting know-how in a parallel area of technology by creating false evidence blaming Bill Courtney for  Manchester University research failures.
For a third party summary of the unethical activities at Manchester University visit
http://www.abettermousetrap.co.uk/whistleblower-inventor-alleges-fraud-by-manchester-university/

 

It's not too late for Europe to profit from the graphene revolution, but the painful problems need to be acknowledged and remedial action taken. 
 

Here is a suggested action plan:

(i) Before embarking on publicly funded graphene research, all European researchers must be aware of the graphene patent territory staked out by existing patent applications.

(ii) The expertise of patent lawyers is required for this task. A joint European 2D Materials Intelligence Office should be set up to provide this information and assist in the writing of broad graphene patents.

(iii) The temptation to go with the herd, investigating graphene uses that are currently most favoured and the subject of multiple existing patent applications should be resisted.

(iv) The flip-side of (iii) is that the Intelligence Office should be looking out for core patents that have been abandoned. These will be equivalent to "spoiler patents", providing clues about research areas where it should still be possible to file successful secondary patents.

(v) European researchers should alert the Intelligence Office to the smallest rumours of any new graphene uses being hinted at in the conference halls and elsewhere. 

(vi) The Office should  respond by submitting broadly written patent applications using a patent factory approach as we have explained above. Money would only need to be spent protecting the patents if the early rumours were substantiated.

(v) Patents have a maximum life of twenty years. One way of choosing research topics that will hopefully escape the patent trap is to identify potential applications where patents were published early in the graphene era and which show great future promise but where the technical problems are proving so challenging that products are unlikely to reach the market before the patent protection window closes.

As a Manchester Man, Bill Courtney favours this office being set up in Manchester!

(After the tiny number of rogues at Manchester University who have been involved in unethical conduct have been removed.)

(vi) With luck, our competitors will allow their expensive graphene patents to lapse, falling back on secret know-how and weak copyright law to protect their intellectual property. Unfortunately,  secret know-how is the antithesis of open academic research. To compete in know-how based markets we suggest that European universities should set up strong Applied Research Institutes as described on this linked web page.

 

National and European security issues
MI5 has warned that Britain's graphene secrets are under threat from Chinese and Russian cyber attacks. A similar threat is posed to the Bristol University work on quantum computing.
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/b687ae0c-a1e0-11e2-8971-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2QeI0g24c

 

This threat should not be confused with the type of cold war thefts where Britain’s enemies stole our military secrets to keep up with us in the arms race.

The bigger threat today is that the thieves will be act swiftly by filing patent applications before we do. Then, after we Brits and other Europeans have done the expensive and clever research, they can step in and claim manufacturing rights.

 

We can avoid the patent law trap by filing patents at the earliest possible date.
Setting up 2D Materials and other Emerging Technology Intelligence Offices should be a security priority for Europe.

We also need to be aware of the enemy within our university system. See the CrashSALi and PedSALi web pages for extensive evidence that British intellectual property has been sacrificed to hide academic failings.

 

 

SALi patents granted
The following patents were very broadly written and would have provided IP protection for combined SALi-graphene products.
This means that they offered protection to a broad class of products that included graphene packaging from the very day that graphene was isolated.

British manufacturing of graphene based products could have got off to a world leading start.
 

1  1   1  Courtney, W .A. Device incorporating elastic fluids and viscous damping, World Intellectual Property Organisation, WO 97/25551. 
This is the primary SALi patent.
Bill took the precaution of filing it in 1996, before telling Manchester University or any other party about SALi.

This started life as an expensive international application but ended up as a UK patent only
Bill’s research supervisor at Manchester University was very distressed by his pending fame and fortune if SALi Technology became a commercial success. Consequently Bill's SALi research made very slow progress. There was considerable commercial interest but companies required detailed research data before investing in the patents.  He could not afford to take this patent through to wide international status using his own funds and had to restrict it to a UK patent.

 

2                   2 Courtney, W. A. Improved impact absorber with viscous damping, World Intellectual Property Organisation, PCT/GB98/03594 (1998). 
This was Bill's fallback primary patent. For several years he was able to take it forward in Europe and the USA, gaining international patents. But when Manchester University refused to tackle the research fraud and Bill ran out of funds he abandoned this family of patents.

For impact absorbers involving graphene, this would have been similar to the water desalination process, but for another purpose, because the improvement relates to the use of a tough flexible packaging membrane possessing pores that allow the matrix fluid to pass through under pressure, absorbing additional impact energy. So, one research investment in graphene could have triggered two entirely different products, that helped to save lives in different ways.
Courtney's patent would not have protected desalination using graphene membranes, but once details of SALi products incorporating porous graphene packaging had been published in the public domain, the patent would have acted as a spoiler, reducing the Lockheed Martin patent threat to ongoing Manchester research into desalination.

 

3                  3 Courtney, W. A. Impact absorbent building structures, British Intellectual Property Office GB9805887.8 (1998).

When NASA detected evidence of water on the moon Bill filed this patent application for a SALi based lunar dwelling.
Again, Bill's research supervisor was uneasy about the high profile this gave him 
NASA expressed interest in funding the proof of concept research at Manchester University but Bill's research supervisor failed to pass his funding bid on to NASA.
 
See the Appendix 2 below.

      

Manchester University SALi patents abandoned

4-6   Bill wrote six SALi patent applications on behalf of Manchester University as part of the plan to make Manchester into a SALi research hub. He did this patent writing work free of charge, as part of his contribution to the corporate life of the University. 
It would have been very rewarding to do something similar for graphene.

De        A list of the patents Bill wrote for the University are provided on this linked web page.

 

         The total business loss for Great Britain plc


Graphene and SALi are just the tip of the iceberg

In total Bill Courtney has written and filed approximately eighty patent applications. Many of these have been taken through to full patent status. Browse our home page to see the diversity of topics covered.

         The original Cheshire Innovation business was for these inventions to be developed on the back of the successful commercial launch of SALi. The shenanigans at Manchester University have prevented this from happening.

 

 

Bill Courtney welcomes the prospect of making Manchester into graphene city but
radical changes are required before the University can be trusted as a business partner

(i)  The present management at Manchester University is not averse to creating false evidence to steal other people’s intellectual property rights. So how can investors in Manchester’s graphene city be confident that they are making an ethical investment?

For proof that a Vice-President of Manchester University has fabricated evidence to override SALi patent rights please go this linked web page and go to the Conclusion section.

(ii) On our CrashSALi page you will read that when Courtney’s MP tried to investigate SALi research fraud at the University, the University responded by tarnishing Courtney’s reputation. It unilaterally changed its profit sharing partnership with Courtney to a client-service provider relationship. It then used legal pressure to try and force Courtney to bear all of the costs for bad University research.

How can investors be sure that such illegal dirty tricks will not be used again?

(iii) Also on the CrashSALi page you will find strong evidence that an errant University employee has leaked Courtney’s designs to China, but the University has declined to examine the case.

 

 

 

Appendix 1


Evidence supporting the claim that, "The proto-plan for a Manchester "graphene city" was the earlier collaborative work between Bill Courtney and the business arm of Manchester University to make Manchester into a SALi research hub."

A1.1 Extract from the agreement between MIL the business arm of the University and Bill, transferring all SALi negotiating rights to the University.

 

Comment

Bill trusted Manchester University to act ethically when he signed away his rights. Unfortunately the key people involved after amalgamation did not.

 

A1.2 Extracts from one of MIL's leaflets demonstrating that it was actively working to make Manchester a SALi research  hub.

Please note, the problems at Manchester University were caused by a small number of unprofessional people who do not reflect the behaviour of the vast majority of their colleagues.
In particular, Bill Courtney had an excellent working relationship with the pre-amalgamation business arm of Manchester University. Its members were highly professional and no criticism of them is implied by the information provided on this page. 

 

 

Q. Was graphene packaging necessary for SALi based impact absorbers to work? 

A. No.
Pre-existing low-stretch materials such as Kevlar, Cuben Fiber and strong polycot ton fabric were quite adequate for the job. But, graphene based packaging would have been even better because of its lightness, thinness, antibacterial and improved heat conduction properties.
In the pre-graphene era, there was considerable UK manufacturing interest in developing SALi based products, using these existing materials, but the research fraud at Manchester University prevented progress.

Under different circumstances, the UK manufacturing industry could have “cut its teeth” developing a wide range of SALi products using these pre-existing materials. Then shot to the front of a graphene economy, when graphene based packaging became available at a competitive price.
Take a look at our “What is SALi?” Webpage to see the range of commercial opportunities we threw away.

 

 

 

Appendix 2
Impact absorbent building structures

This was Bill's attempt at a headline grabbing project
for attracting international attention to Manchester
as a leading technology city in the new millennium

Daily Telegraph
For a few short weeks after the publication of this article, the in-joke amongst coleagues at Manchester University was, "What Manchester does today, the rest of the solar system does tomorrow."
The patent covered terrestrial and extraterrestrial buildings. Locally mined lunar pumice or similar vesicular rock would have been used instead of the greased beads referred to. Read sections 4.4 and 5 of this linked page for technical details.)

 

Appendix 3

An expert view - with hidden irony included

The following letter was published by The Guardian,

 

Exploiting graphene, the wonder substance, for the UK

The chancellor has stated that we are to exploit the invention of graphene in this country. In this regard it may be worth contrasting the numbers of patents held by Manchester University, where it was discovered (0), and Samsung (a lot).

While I agree that graphene probably is the best thing since sliced bread, it is hard to see how it can be commercially exploited in the absence of something to exploit. It is also my understanding that Sir Andre Geim, one of two emigre Russian scientists at Manchester who made the discovery, is not patent friendly, taking a similar line to the Manchester Manifesto published by John Sulston through the university, which is probably the simple most meretricious document relating to patents ever issued.

Before making further investments in graphene, the chancellor might well be advised to review the due diligence carried out by Manchester to ensure that graphene is actually its to exploit.
Philip Atkinson
Solicitor and former head of intellectual property at Eversheds

 

Bill Courtney comments

There is a terrible irony relating to this letter because Eversheds was (apparently) innocently drawn into the the cover-up of the SALi research fraud at Manchester University.
Eversheds role gave credibility to the University's SALi fraud suppression tactics, which indirectly destroyed Bill's chances of playing a constructive role in patenting graphene. To see a copy of Eversheds intimidating letter to Bill  scroll down to Appendix Three on our CrashSALi page.

 

Appendix 4

The following email has been sent to James Baker, the new business director of the National Graphene Centre.

 

8 May 2014

Dear James,

 A personal suggestion for helping to make Manchester into Graphene City is published on the following web page.

www.cheshire-innovation.com/sali/SALi%20and%20graphene.htm

 At first sight, the article may appear to be negative, but please be patient and read through it.

 As you will see, I have tried to offer something positive to Manchester, in very difficult circumstances.

 Yours sincerely,

 Bill Courtney

 

This email was copied to the President, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell and Mrs April Lockyer, the Head of Research Integrity at the University, Professor Helen Gleeson and Professor Peter Duck.

No reply has been received to date.