IRG 2-2: Comparative Study of State Nanotechnology Policy: U.S., China, Japan

(Appelbaum, Parker, Ridge, Motoyama)


One central theme of our research is the role of public investment as a driver for nanotechnology. To what extent do government-funded national nanotechnology initiatives constitute industrial policy? What are the results of different governmental approaches, in terms of publications, patents, and commercialization? Much of our research to date has focused on China, where government efforts appear to reach further into the commercial end of the value chain than in the U.S. Our China research concludes that China’s substantial investment in nanotechnology – one of four “science megaprojects” under the Medium and Long-Term Plan (for high technology) – has paid large dividends at the research stage, but has yet to result in significant commercial payoff. While this is true in other countries as well, China faces the additional challenges of having a risk-averse state sector, an SME sector that is growing but undeveloped, and a university and science academy-based research sector that lacks entrepreneurial experience.


This research stream builds on the previous research done in China, and seeks to better understand the role of state policy as a driver of nanotechnology R&D and commercialization. We have developed a comparative methodology that uses similar kinds of data (for example, public documents, published reports and studies, differences in IP protection law, analysis of patent and publication data). The first step has been to focus on the U.S. NNI in an effort to better understand funding allocations across agencies, especially programs such as SBIR and STTR that are more directly focused on commercialization. This study of the US NNI concludes that while the NNI can be seen as an example of industrial policy (it was initiated within NSF and OSTP, rather than resulting from “grassroots” pressure from scientists or business people), most of the funding has been at the research end (to universities and government labs), with only a small portion directed to support businesses.


The project post-doc, Yasuyuki Motoyama, is using this framework for one of his projects, a comparative study of nanotechnology policy in the U.S. and Japan (his hypothesis is that, contrary to conventional thinking, the U.S. has a more aggressive industrial policy in this area than Japan). Appelbaum, Parker, and Cao will provide a comparative analysis of the U.S. and China. A draft of this paper has been written, and will be updated and completing for Harthorn and Mohr, The Social Life of Nanotechnology.