Book Review: Handbook gives business pioneers survival skills needed to tame nanotech’s frontier

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Feb. 23, 2005 — At $125 a pop, “The Handbook of Nanotechnology” stands out as one of the most expensive nanotech non-textbooks on the market today. But is it worth it?

If you are an entrepreneur or investor who is considering rolling your dice in the sub-100 nanometer zone, or a scientist or engineer with no foundation in business but a hankering to found a company, then it may be a bargain. The handbook takes a deep dive into topics such as patenting, regulatory issues, fund raising and business practices that likely will prove critical to your success.

But if you want a guide to nanotechnology, look elsewhere. You’ll find a better fit for a fraction of the cost in other titles that have been reviewed by Small Times over the years.

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“The Handbook of Nanotechnology” includes an impressive amount of primary research that its authors use to explain trends and outlooks. A sampling of footnotes in many similar books will show the writer assembled quotes and supporting information from news articles and other publications. Not so here. The four-writer team appears to have conducted many interviews and surveys to provide information tailored to the topic at hand.

John Miller, vice president of intellectual property at Arrowhead Research and managing editor of the journal Nanotechnology Law & Business, and Griffith Kundahl, general counsel and vice president of the NanoBusiness Alliance, put their legal expertise to good use. They explain the quagmire that is nanotech patenting today, and spell out the possible consequences for startups, investors and others involved in nanotechnology. And they do it with specifics.

Want to know who holds those overly broad patents on nanotubes and quantum dots? You’ll find out in the handbook. Would you like to see an example of a well-crafted application? It’s there.

Ruben Serrato of Canon USA’s research and development group and Jose Miguel Represas-Cardenas, an electrical engineering graduate student on leave from Stanford University, round out the writing group. Among them, they review numerous policy and regulatory issues that could confound even a rocket scientist, and they are honest when they’re stumped.

“We spent several weeks gazing at hundreds of pages of convoluted (export control) regulations. This is our best attempt to summarize laws relevant to firms involved in nanotechnology,” they write.

The book also provides guidelines for starting and sustaining a business. Much of the material is standard: forming a business plan, getting financing, protecting intellectual property, etc. But the authors also recognize that nanotechnology is useless on its own. Its value usually lies in its ability to make existing products better or to facilitate in the creation of new goods and processes. They point out that going to market often entails partnerships and other strategies, and offer advice on how to accomplish that.

With nanotech still in hyper morph mode, parts of the handbook run the risk of becoming obsolete fairly quickly. The patent office, numerous federal agencies and a handful of presidential advisory committees are expected to address nanotech issues this year, and their decisions could make sections of the handbook out of date.

On the other hand, the book passes the Nanosys test with flying colors. It went to press after Nanosys began the process of an initial public offering, but before the company had a change of heart and withdrew the deal. Well-funded and popular, Nanosys was getting a lot of play at the time as nano’s first big hit on Wall Street.

In their references to Nanosys, the authors assume a cautious tone. Everything they write about the company holds up as a consequence. In this case and throughout the book, they stress “what is” rather than “gee whiz.” That approach won’t get them on the New York Times bestseller list, but it places them among recommended reading here.

Book stats

“The Handbook of Nanotechnology: Business, Policy, and Intellectual Property Law”

By John C. Miller, Ruben Serrato, Jose Miguel Represas-Cardenas and Griffith Kundahl

(nonfiction, 368 pages, published in 2004 by John Wiley & Sons, $125 hardcover)


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