The Role of Brazilian Firms in Nanotechnology Development

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Invernizzi, Noela
Kay, Luciano
Shapira, Philip
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Brazil has been at the forefront of developing countries in implementing policies to promote the development of nanotechnologies, with the first programs implemented in 2001. Previous research has demonstrated that this country is also the leader in research and patenting activity in this field in Latin America, yet industry involvement in nanotechnology is relatively low considering its research output in terms of scientific publications and patents granted in recent years (Kay & Shapira, 2009). Yet, at the same time, nanotechnology policy in Brazil has promoted the development of research networks and suggested economic targets related to industrial development. For instance, the National Program of Nanotechnology includes goals like reaching one percent of the global markets for materials, products, and processes based on nanotechnology and exports of about $10 billion within 10 years (Goncalves da Silva, 2003). Although the existing evidence at the aggregate level suggests that Brazilian firms are not participating actively in nanotechnology development, when looking in detail the data show that several firms are involved to more or less extent in nanotechnology research and commercialization (Table 1). For example, some preliminary analyses show that at least 36 firms have published or co-authored nanotechnology articles in the last 15 years, more than 20 of them have applied for nanotechnology patents, and several others are mentioned in official data sources as institutions forming part of research networks supported by government programs (MCT, 2003, 2006). These more detailed data suggest some incipient industry activity in developing nanotechnologies, yet it is not clear what role these firms have in the overall process of nanotechnology development pursued by Brazil. At least two hypothetical paths of development of nanotechnology are suggested for Brazilian firms. Considering the important presence of state-owned firms in Brazil and the existing nanotechnology policy, it is expected for these firms to engage more in basic research in areas more aligned with social or broader economic goals, collaborating more with local research institutions than other types of firms. Meanwhile, Brazilian private firms and subsidiaries of foreign firms are expected to target research areas aligned with their overall commercial strategies, patenting their technologies after undertaking research in-house or in collaboration with local or foreign research institutions. For testing these hypothetical roles of firms, other variables like firm location and industry sector will be considered. Research question What is the role of Brazilian firms in the development of nanotechnology? What type of research and commercialization activities are they undertaking? Do they collaborate with other research institutions? Method Based primarily on Georgia Tech global databases of nanotechnology scientific publications and patents,[1] this work will identify the firms undertaking nanotechnology research and commercialization in Brazil. Their scientific publications and patents will be identified and matched to the industry sectors that those firms represent and to collaborations that they maintain with other national or foreign research institutions. In addition to this bibliometric analysis, this work will produce case studies of the leading Brazilian firms based on secondary data, describing in more detail their research and commercialization activities by analyzing thoroughly publication and patent records. Preliminary Results The levels of scientific publication and patenting by Brazilian firms are still very low compared to the overall nanotechnology research level in the country. The top-5 firms undertaking nanotechnology research and applying for nano-patents in Brazil were identified and shown in Table 1. The top four research firms are large state-owned firms in the sectors of agriculture, energy, and communications. Meanwhile, the top-5 patent applicants are private companies in the sectors of chemistry, medicine, electronics and optics, and engineering. In principle, these data suggest that the two hypothetical paths of nanotechnology development suggested before are plausible for Brazilian firms. That is, public firms may be more likely to target basic research in priority areas for the country, while private firms may be more likely to target the development and patenting of nanotechnologies related to their overall commercial strategies. [1] Primarily, ISI-WOS and Patstat databases.
Support for the research was provided through CNS-ASU with sponsorship from the National Science Foundation (Award No. 0531194)
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