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Defence Applications for Quantum

Discover the potential for quantum defence applications.

Two stories have been in the news in Europe earlier this month relating to defence applications for quantum technologies.

In the UK, there is work towards developing a quantum enabled radar network. The University of Birmingham has just installed its second radar of such a system. Quantum-enabled radar, utilising ultra-stable and highly precise quantum oscillators, has the potential to significantly improve the capabilities of conventional radar to detect smaller targets such as drones and birds. Although, there are non-military applications for this technology such as in self driving cars, there are also defence related applications.

Also, last week NATO launched a new research program “Defence Innovation Accelerator of the North Atlantic” (DIANA). In its initial stage, DIANA will run a network of more than 10 accelerator sites and over 50 test centres in innovation hubs across NATO alliance countries. One of the selected technology areas is quantum enabled technologies. An accelerator for quantum enabled technologies will be located in Denmark at the Niels Bohr institute.

Patenting in areas where there are defence applications brings its own challenges as many countries have restrictions on where a patent application can be first filed.

These restrictions are grounded in national security provisions and serve to prevent a country losing control of defence related technology to which it believes it is entitled. When an application is filed at a national patent office, the office will usually review the application on filing to determine if the application is concerned with defence related technology. If a patent office decides that the application is concerned with defence related technology then it is possible that the application will be subject to a secrecy order.

A country can put restrictions on where a patent application can be filed dependent on where the invention was made and/or the nationality or residency of the applicant or inventors. Thus, for a research team which has inventors with a mix of nationalities, it is necessary to check the provisions for each inventor to avoid accidentally ignoring national security provisions of the country of one of the inventors. Sometimes the situation arises where there will be two or more patent offices requiring that the application should be first filed at their office. Although some patent offices will allow an applicant to apply for permission to file an application in another country first, this is not always the case.

Many (but not all) of the national requirements concerning restrictions on the first filing of patent applications are concerned with technology with military or defence applications. Also, many countries will allow the applicant or a patent attorney to judge whether the application has military or defence applications. However, it is important to be aware that even if technology is developed which is primarily intended for non-defence related applications, if there are some defence related applications then the application could be subject be national security provisions.

If restrictions concerning the office where the patent application must be first filed are not followed, these issues are very difficult to put right later. Therefore, it is always advisable to check with a patent attorney.

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