The International Patent Classification (IPC) has introduced a new class for specific uses of nanotechnology structures. This will be a great help in tracing such inventions as published patent specifications.
The Wikipedia article on nanotechnology defines it as the "study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale" -- they are so tiny that odd and interesting effects often appear.
Previously any patent documents relating to nanotechnology were placed in Y01N. This was an ECLA class, not IPC, the differences being that ECLAs are not printed on published patent specifications and that they only index the USA, the PCT "World" patent system, the European Patent Convention system, and some European countries. Use of ECLA has been extended to patents back to the nineteenth century is some cases (it varies, but goes back at least to 1920). It often takes months or longer to add the ECLA classes to newly published patent specifications.
Now B82Y has joined the usual A to H sequence in the IPC so that any patent office can use them when issuing patent documents.
Class B82Y at present contains 10 subclasses, and is for "Specific uses or applications of nano-structures; measurement or analysis of nano-structures; manufacture or treatment of nano-structures".
Clicking on the little hollow box next to a class number and then on Copy transfers that class to a search mask on the free Espacenet database. Other filters such as by keyword or company name can be added, otherwise clicking on Search will run that class looking for it when used as an ECLA. Moving the class to the IPC box is best when searching for new material, as it looks for it as used when published (it's a bit more complicated than that, actually).
Over 100,000 turn up if B82Y is treated as an ECLA, but only 963 at the time of writing if it is treated as an IPC. Except for two these 963 were all published from January 2011 onwards, when the new class was in theory introduced, making this a valuable way to check for new innovations in nanotechnology by companies or academia.
For example, the University of California is responsible for 17 of those 963. A slightly crude analysis can be made by country by asking for the two letter country code in the priority date field (where it was first applied for as a patent). The US accounts for 509 or 52%, while perhaps surprisingly China (CN) is second (15%) and Japan (JP) is third with 8%. Britain (GB), Germany (DE) and France (FR) together amount to only 9.5%.
Additionally, there is B82B which only has a few classes and I suspect is likely to have more classes in the future. It is for "Nano-structures formed by manipulation of individual atoms, molecules, or limited collections of atoms or molecules as discrete units; manufacture or treatment thereof".