Two UK-based academics won a Nobel Prize for their work with graphene, but most patents regarding the "super-material" are now being awarded overseas, a study has revealed.
Graphene is a kind of two-dimensional carbon which is one of the thinnest, lightest, strongest and most conductive materials known to man.
Scientists aim to use graphene, which was discovered in 2004, to manufacture items such as flexible display screens, electric circuits and solar cells.
The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from Manchester University in 2010 for their "ground-breaking experiments".
And last December, Chancellor George Osborne announced more than £21m in investment funding to develop practical uses for graphene.
But research by technology strategy firm CambridgeIP showed countries such as China, South Korea and the United States could be stealing the lead from the UK.
The firm, which analysed the worldwide patents surrounding the material, said: "In 2010 one of the striking features of the graphene patent landscape was what was not present.
"Manchester University, home of Nobel Prize-winners Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, had only one published graphene patent application.
"In 2011 and 2012 Manchester University have increased the rate at which they are applying for graphene patents. The university now has 16 published patents and patent applications, with more pending."
Companies such as South Korea's Samsung and US firm SanDisk, which makes data storage devices, are teaming up with research institutions and filing numerous patents.
The report reveals there were 7,351 graphene patents and applications worldwide by the end of 2012.
Chinese institutions and corporations top the list with 2,200, while the US is second with 1,754 patents. The UK, meanwhile, has 54.
Report author Quentin Tannock admitted Britain risked being left behind, but said it was not too late to turn things around.
He told Sky News: "The race for value from graphene is far from over. Graphene is a very complex technology space.
"The graphene race is more of a marathon than a sprint. And in my view the winners of the race for value from graphene will be the smart rather than the swift.
"UK inventors have a well-deserved reputation for being highly innovative, and there is much room in the graphene patent landscape for the UK to develop world leadership around key aspects of graphene technologies.
"However, UK-based innovators and UK policymakers must understand how very intense international competition around graphene is and how the UK, and UK innovators, must compete to win."