Figure I14

Artistic representation of part of a carbon nanotube.

by copyright law. The copyright laws of many nations include specific provision for the protection of "architectural works."

To what extent might copyright law provide protection for the creation of nanotechnology structures? The previous discussion alludes to parallels that exist between architectural structures, which are often afforded copyright protection, and certain nanotechnology structures. But the comparison between large-scale architecture and nanotechnology is not a precise one. There is more that distinguishes a buckyball from a geodesic dome than simply scale.

Probably most important in considering the potential for copyright protection when applied to nanotechnology is that all of the structures shown above are artistic renderings of nanotechnology structures and do not show the precise structures. The ball-and-stick model of molecules is very useful in conceptualizing molecular structures, but that is not how actual molecules appear. At the scale of molecules, there are a variety of quantum-mechanical effects taking place that affect how molecules can be observed. The individual atoms are not hard spheres, but are a complex and ever-changing jumble of more fundamental particles. And the bonds are not rigid sticks between the atoms, but are collections of electrons that have convoluted orbits that permit them to be described as "shared" by the atoms.

The term "nanotechnology" is increasingly used to describe a range of scales, and the ability to discern structure in a conventional sense may well depend on the precise scale of individual structures. Structures on the scale of a hundred nanometers can readily be resolved in a traditional microscopic sense and should be entitled to copyright protection for certain artistic characteristics. The situation becomes less clear as the scale continues to decrease. At some point (and perhaps it is when the term "picotechnology" begins to be in vogue), quantum-mechanical effects make it impossible to image structures in any conventional sense. The ability of copyright protection to apply to those kinds of structures becomes significantly limited.

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