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Quantum Computing Patents: The Global Rush to Stake Claims

Quantum computers, algorithms and practical applications are some of the hottest new technology today

Quantum computers, algorithms and practical applications are some of the hottest new technology today because of the potential promise of this technology. Companies across the world are racing to develop quantum computers and applications, and there is substantial discussion in the literature of ongoing progress on those efforts.

Because of the potential commercial value of this technology, there is substantial excitement around investment in companies positioning themselves to take advantage of the commercial opportunities this technology promises.

Behind the scenes, developers worldwide are quietly filing patent applications to stake claims to their inventions for quantum technology. If they are successful, they will be in a position to exclude others from using their inventions for a number of years and to control others’ use of their inventions through licenses, while obtaining substantial royalties from those licenses.

Merely filing patent applications, however, is no guaranty of success.

A patent application may not issue as a patent and, even if it does, the validity of the patent may later be challenged. More importantly, a patent application that is filed today may not correctly anticipate the future commercial roadmap of this rapidly evolving technology. Many patents will find themselves in the scrapheap of good inventions that find no applicability in the market. Some patents will have been drafted too narrowly to cover equally good solutions used by competitors, and therefore cannot be used to exclude or to obtain royalties for competitors’ alternative solutions.

Although it cannot be said whether any particular patent application will mature into a commercially valuable patent, it is nearly certain that some patent applications will result in groundbreaking patents.

Given that a subset of patent applications will result in important patents, a meaningful question to consider is what countries are targets for quantum patent applications because a patent’s exclusive rights reach only infringing activities in the country in which a patent issues. For example, a United States patent will not reach conduct performed entirely in the UK; likewise, a UK patent will not reach conduct performed entirely in the United States.

It is not possible to identify all patent applications that may impact quantum computing. There have been numerous attempts to identify such applications, but they provide different results, depending on the methodology used. A consistent search, while inexact, nonetheless suggests the relative importance of countries where applications are being filed. One would expect applications to be filed in countries that have (1) a robust market for the use or manufacture of quantum computers and applications, and (2) a strong and reliable legal infrastructure for enforcing patents against infringers. Dead Cat Live Cat did an analysis that shows this to be true.

Our current snapshot indicates that the ten countries where the most quantum computing patent applications appear to have been filed are:

United States – 467 applications
UK – 211 applications
Canada – 83 applications
Japan – 74 applications
Germany – 35 applications
France – 34 applications
Australia – 31 applications
Italy – 21 applications
Austria – 18 applications
New Zealand – 18 applications

The filing of patent applications has been increasing over time, and will surely increase even more in the future as quantum computing technology develops and ultimately matures.

The filing of patent applications has been increasing over time, and will surely increase even more in the future as quantum computing technology develops and ultimately matures. One would expect it to become more challenging to obtain patents over time because there will be more “prior art” (i.e., prior knowledge of the technology), and one cannot patent something that is already known.

However, the number of valuable patents that do issue on innovations should increase because the commercial evolution of the technology will be better understood and it is therefore more likely that those patents would better capture the technology that will be used.

The bottom line is that it is already important for quantum computing market participants to think about the patent landscape they will face, both offensively and defensively, because their own patents could become valuable assets, while their competitors’ patents could potentially impose a substantial impediment to the success of their business.

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