May 3, 2016

Not a Case of 'VANTA'-Black and White in IP Law

'Vantablack' is the name used to describe a new 'super-black' coating/paint developed by Surrey NanoSystems and questions have been raised as to whether an artist may be granted exclusive rights to paint using the product.


'Vanta' stands for the acronym 'Vertically Aligned NanoTube Array', and Vantablack is created using a series of carbon nanotubes that effectively remove all but a tiny amount of light visible to the human eye.  The coating currently holds the world record as the darkest man-made substance and was originally developed for satellite-borne blackbody calibration systems, but its unique physical and optical properties have resulted in it finding widespread application.

An image of foil covered in Vantablack can be seen here, it is evident that the foil's reflective properties are diminished. Invisible jets, touch screens and enhancing the strength of components in the aerospace industry have been listed as potential uses for Vantablack and artists and architects have speculated about its unique potential in respect of optical effects.

Surrey NanoSystems exclusively granted the right to paint with Vantablack to leading artist Anish Kapoor, prompting discussion as to how this is possible within the realms of intellectual property law.

What IP Rights are Protected?

Surrey NanoSystem's public patents do not appear to reveal anything directly associated with Vantablack.  However, it does have patents covering methods for creating nanostructures. The IPKat asked how the exclusive right to paint using Vantablack could actually be acquired by Kapoor, suggesting that he might have acquired the right to manufacture Vantablack, as opposed to simply using it. An alternative theory is that, due to the complex nature of Vantablack and the process of its creation, it could be considered a trade secret. Further, it is possible that Kapoor's use of Vantablack, reportedly the individual exclusively entitled to use it, would serve as an indicator of the origin of his works and so effectively a trade mark.


Some artists have expressed outrage at the idea that an artist can be exclusively entitled to use a colour, though the specific legal method by which the rights have been conferred remains unclear and liable to dispute.  It remains to be seen whether somebody feels strongly enough (or, more likely, has enough to gain financially and commercially) to take the matter further.

in: Copyright, News, Patents, Trade Marks

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