Patents provide their owners the exclusive right to stop others from making or using their patented invention for a limited period of time in exchange for giving the public details and information about how to make and use the invention.
This process encourages innovation and development by providing the public with these details early on and allowing other innovators the opportunity to learn from and expand on the new technology.
Patent filings in the field of quantum computing are still fairly low in total number around the world however the pace at which these applications are being filed, particularly in the last decade, is multiplying. In one report published by the European Patent Office (EPO), a breakdown of the most active patent applicants in the quantum computing space found Canadian start-up company D-Wave at the top of the list between the years 2000-2009 with 57 international patent families. D-Wave was the only Canadian entity listed but by 2010, neither D-Wave or any other Canadian company appeared on the top ten list. Between 2010-2021, seven out of ten companies were based out of the US.
Notably, IBM, which did not appear in the top ten contenders between 2000-2009, was found to have the highest number of quantum computing patent application published between 2020-2021, with 187 international patent families.
IBM has been one of, if not the biggest, patent filer (of any kind) in the United States for years, in one case filing over 10,000 US patent applications in a single year. However, in 2022, IBM announced it would be taking a more selective approach to patent filing, focusing on high impact advancements in the areas of hybrid cloud, data and A.I., automation, security, semiconductors, and quantum computing, rather than the goal of numeric patent leadership. What this means is that although the total number of patent filings by the intellectual property powerhouse may go down in coming years, the number of those filings related to quantum computing may continue to increase, maintaining IBM’s top spot in the world ranking of top patent filers for quantum computing innovations.
North of the US border, Canada has been lagging behind in total patent filings related to quantum computing.
Although Canada has historically been at the forefront of innovation in the space with plenty of government funding and even calling itself home to the first quantum computing company, D-Wave, the country has not put out nearly as many patents as others like the US and China. A report by IPRdaily conducted on patent filings up to October 2022, found that the top 100 patent filers came from 18 countries and regions, with 40% from the US, 15% from China, 11% from Japan, and only 7% from Canada. The remaining filings came from the UK, Australia, and Germany, and less than 3% each from 11 other jurisdictions.
Although D-Wave continues to keep Canada on the map with over 500 total patent filings in the space, coming in close behind top US filers IBM (over 1300 filings) and Google (nearly 800 filings), it is not nearly enough to secure a dominant Canadian presence in the global patent landscape for quantum computing.
Countries, like Canada, that wish to continue to commercialize quantum innovations and support research initiatives should consider encouraging quantum start-ups and innovators to pursue patent protections in order to secure their intellectual property rights, for example by setting aside a portion of funding for intellectual property strategy. These rights can provide security for companies to continue practicing their inventions, and may increase their potential for commercialization of their innovations.