International Patent Insights on Quantum Computing

See how the international quantum computing patents are evolving.
Marks & Clerk

The European Patent Office (EPO) have released their latest patent insight report, this time reporting on the trends in patent filings for quantum computing.

This report joins previously published quantum-focused reports on quantum sensing and meteorology (2019), and quantum space technologies (2021).

The EPO research has uncovered some interesting findings:

  • Patent applications across all fields of quantum computing are rising significantly. This rise is not only ahead of the generally observed increase for all fields of technology, but appears to also be reflected in important sub-fields of quantum computing: physical realisations of quantum hardware; quantum error correction; and quantum and artificial intelligence/machine learning.
  • There is a strong international element to innovation in quantum technologies. Patent applicants come from all continents, and the above average numbers of international applications filed under the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT) suggest an interest in a multi-national commercialisation strategy.

The report should be viewed in context of an exciting time in the quantum world.

Within the last decade, there has been significant interest from investors willing to take a chance on quantum. As reported from research by McKinsey & Company, start-up activity and investment in quantum tech have skyrocketed since 2015, with billions of dollars in investment expected in the coming years.

This investment comes alongside impressive advances in the field of quantum computing – quantum computers have evolved from a handful of qubits to large qubit arrays of hundreds of qubits (with the promise for thousands in the near future). Other teams have developed innovative qubit technologies that allow for impressive scaling of qubit assemblies, and, as recently reported in Nature, a team at the University of Sussex and Universal Quantum have demonstrated transfer of data from across quantum bits on different quantum microchips. Google have also reported a breakthrough in reducing the quantum bit error rate (QBER), the mitigation of which is an essential step to realising a practical large-scale commercial quantum computer.

To the extent to which patent filings in a field of technology can be reflective of a corresponding market growth, the findings are welcome news indeed. The uptick in patent activity in quantum technologies indicates not only the strength of innovation worldwide (as supported by the examples above), but also that actors in the field are taking commercialisation seriously and are contemplating maturation of a still nascent technology. With private investor and government funding continuing to rise, we can expect even further increases in patent applications in the years ahead.

Of particular interest is the findings regarding applications toward the union of quantum and artificial intelligence. The EPO reports that patent filings in this area shows an even greater momentum than in applications toward physical realisations of quantum computing and quantum bit error rate technologies. Similar observations of growth in patent filings toward other applications of quantum technology can be made from the EPO’s other recent reports (see the insights on space-based quantum and quantum meteorology and sensing).

These results perhaps demonstrate a willingness of market actors to envision practical applications of the nascent quantum technologies alongside comparatively more mature fields such as AI or telecommunications.

With any nascent technology, barriers to effective commercialisation exist not only in implementing the technology practically, but also in the extent to which others are willing to adopt the technology. Patent applicant interest in applying quantum solutions alongside known technologies may help this breakthrough by bringing exposure to customers and vendors, thereby hastening commercial rewards.

Furthermore, while the data shows a consistently high proportion of US patent applications, there are still significant numbers of European, Japanese and Chinese applications. There is also a notable increase in PCT (international) applications. While a PCT application does not itself result in a granted patent, the application may serve as the basis for multiple applications in many different jurisdictions. Patent applicants usually file PCT applications instead of applications directly with national offices if they wish a certain degree of flexibility in their long-term international strategy. This increased interest in this type of patent application may indicate high economic expectations and a multinational commercialisation strategy. This observation is certainly in line with the increasing amount of international funding for quantum technologies.

Overall, the data aligns well with what we have been observing at Dead Cat Live Cat over recent years. Regular readers will remember that our website includes a regularly updated Patent Map, listing thousands of the most recently filed patent applications across the world – see here to browse.

The EPO clearly values the important role that quantum computing will one day play in society and the economy across the world. Their research into accurate classification of quantum technologies, and their commissioning of this report (and their announced future reports) is very welcome. This ongoing interest of the EPO should hopefully offer reassurance to innovators contemplating filing European patent applications as part of their international commercialisation strategy.

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