Graphene patents could be the next war zone for mobile companies

An emerging material called graphene has the potential to make our mobile devices faster, thinner and more sensitive to our touch, and mobile companies are taking notice: Bloomberg pointed out this week that Samsung and Apple have begun to amass graphene-related patents.

In the U.S. alone, Samsung has at least 38 patents and 17 patent applications related to graphene, according to Bloomberg. Apple has two applications.

Huge mobile companies like Apple and Samsung have spent years battling over alleged patent infringements on everything from cameras to how a phone is unlocked. But moving from a current iPhone or Android phone to graphene-based devices could be the equivalent of the change between a 2005 Motorola Razr and 2014 Samsung Galaxy S5. Think super powerful, thin and flexible devices that are wearable and potentially far less breakable.

Scientists only discovered how to make graphene a decade ago, but its amazing properties have already led to a frenzy of further research and new manufacturing techniques. As a result, researchers are already experimenting with building graphene-based chips and nearing a day when it could be integrated into a commercial device.

So what are those amazing properties? First of all, electrons — the particles that make up electricity — flow through graphene almost as if they were massless. That allows graphene to conduct electricity much faster than silicon, which currently dominates the electronics industry. The material could be integrated into touch screens for better responsiveness and transistors for faster chips. It could also be used to create thinner devices that are also flexible, as graphene is just an atom thick, transparent and also bendable.

Samsung and Apple will face another patent foe: laboratories that have learned that they too can patent their work. Many of the manufacturing techniques for and modified versions of graphene, such as roll-to-roll manufacturing and a method for cooling electronics, are being developed outside of the mobile industry. The biggest players in the next patent wars could come from a lot of directions.