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[NEW DELHI] Nanotechnology publications and patents have grown exponentially in India since the launch of a national initiative in the sector eight years ago, an analysis reveals.

Universities and government-funded institutes have taken the lead in the sector, while industry produced few publications and patents during the period 1990–2007.

The findings strengthen concerns that Indian industry is being slow to take off in nanotechnology (see Lack of industry links 'keeping Indian nanotech small').

The results, part of a wider study by the Delhi-based National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS), were released this week (4 February) at a workshop on capabilities and governance issues relating to emerging technologies in developing countries.

Data presented by NISTADS scientist Vinod Kumar Gupta shows Indian publications in nanotechnology rose from none in 1990 to about 2,200 in 2007, totaling nearly 21,000 at the end of 2007 — an "almost exponential" growth.

The number of patents was negligible until 2001, after which it climbed steadily to 35 in 2007.

Gupta said almost half — 48 per cent — of the publications came from universities, while government research and development institutes contributed 28 per cent.

He said the emergence of Indian universities as centres for the generation of nanotechnology knowledge was "encouraging". Even some relatively poorly-funded colleges were publishing in international journals, he added.

Government institutes also dominated patent ownership, at 39 per cent. The patents tended to be in the fields of pharmaceuticals and chemical sciences and technologies.

Participants at the workshop called for India to address regulatory and ethical issues. Nanotechnology is increasingly used in medicine, textiles, agriculture and environmental clean-ups despite there being no international or national guidelines on their use, the meeting heard.

Concern over the need for regulation has recently received considerable attention in India (see India 'must regulate nanotechnology' urgently).

Last month (9–10 January), a conference organised by Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Calcutta University in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) released recommendations on regulation.

They called for a comprehensive new nanotechnology law; clear definition and classification of nanotechnology products under Indian patent laws; use of the precautionary principle, which assumes a risk exists until a product is proven to be safe; and an expert committee to quickly draw up short-term recommendations to deal with growing application and commercialisation of the technology. 

Nidhi Srivasata, research associate at TERI, told SciDev.Net the recommendations would be submitted to India's science ministry shortly.