In this article we take a brief look at the technology, the potential legal issues on the horizon and what needs to be considered to reduce the likelihood of problems.
Quantum computing provides a promising and practical framework for simulating the behaviour of molecules. A classical computer uses bits which encodes information using a 0 or 1, whereas a quantum computer uses qubits. Due to the quantum nature of qubits, it is possible to encode information that is a combination of quantum states.
This fundamental difference in the way in which information is encoded means that quantum computing allows the possibility for accurately simulating far more complex systems than a classical computer and this means that the pharmaceutical industry is showing much interest in quantum computing.
Quantum computing algorithms are being developed for quantum computers, but also for classical computers which will numerically simulate the behaviour of qubits.
This does not provide the same efficiencies as is hoped will be achievable by a quantum computer, but still allows efficiencies to be achieved. However, for Pharmaceutical companies to embrace the power of quantum computing, they will either need to build substantial quantum computing teams for both hardware and software or look to forming collaborations with quantum computing companies. There are always questions to consider about who should own the IP formed as part of a collaboration, but quantum computing might give rise to some previously unseen issues.
When a patent application is filed, it is necessary to identify the inventors. The inventors are those individuals who have contributed to the inventive concept. In many cases, it is clear who should definitely be named as an inventor, but there is a grey area where someone contributed to the development of a patented product, but possibly their involvement is considered to be not enough for them to be named as an inventor. The owner of the patent application must ensure that each of the inventors assigns their rights in the invention to the owner. Failure to not correctly recognise an individual as an inventor or to fail to obtain an assignment of their rights can result in the owner losing their rights to the patent.
For quantum computing applied to drug discovery, there is the possibility to protect inventions related to the quantum computing and/or inventions related to its output, e.g. a pharmaceutical. However, when considering patenting of a drug where quantum computing was used in its development, there are unknowns as to what tests need to be applied to determine the inventors for a pharmaceutical predicted by the framework. With many parties involved possibly years before the effectiveness of a pharmaceutical is established, it will be necessary at the start of any collaboration to understand the exact role that each party will play and to ensure that the correct agreements are in place.
It is also possible to protect via patents the successful algorithms and hardware that will provide the engine for drug discovery. However, there is a question over whether it is commercially sensible to publicly make available this information as it will be possible for competitors to replicate. Therefore, it is crucial to take a long term view concerning the control of the disclosure of information as well as the ownership.