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UK falls behind in global graphene patent race

Chinese physicists have already outlapped the lot

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Physicists all over the world are scrambling to patent their research on the various different aspects of miracle substance graphene, with Chinese researchers leading the field.

China is the country with the most patents for the carbon that's a hundred times stronger than steel, while Korean giant Samsung is the top company investing in graphene.

Despite the fact that the ground-breaking discovery was made in Britain, the UK is trailing the pack when it comes to patents, with just 54 patent publications in comparison to China's 2,204, according to UK-based consultancy CambridgeIP.

The UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced more money for graphene research last month, adding an extra £21.5m to existing cash for universities.

But the British investment is clearly dwarfed by spending in China as well as the US, where there are 1,754 patents published and South Korea, with 1,160.

In the corporate world, Samsung is plugging plenty of its billions into graphene and holds a massive 407 patents. The second biggest corporate investor is IBM, which has 134 patents for the carbon material.

Graphene has been around for less than a decade, but folks have dubbed it the "miracle substance" for its huge potential for tech innovations. The material is the thinnest ever created but is nevertheless stronger than diamond while staying flexible and it's more conductive than copper. Bendy touchscreen phones, hyper-fast internet and significantly better batteries are just some of the applications boffins have suggested for the stuff.

Russian-born scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their early work in identifying the properties of graphene at Manchester University.

Earlier this month, science minister David Willetts said that it was "vital… to exploit the commercial potential of this astonishing material".

"[The government's] significant investment will support cutting edge research projects to find everyday uses for graphene. They will foster innovation, drive growth and help the UK get ahead in the global race," he said. ®

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