Quantum computing: international patent insights
Earlier in 2023, the European Patent Office (EPO) released a detailed analysis of trends in worldwide quantum computing patent filings. We look at the findings of this report and consider what this means for the future of quantum computing technologies in the patent world.
Volume of quantum computing patent filings
One of the key findings of the EPO’s report is that the number of patent filings in the field of quantum computing is rapidly increasing worldwide. In the last ten years the number of filings per year relating to quantum computing technology has multiplied nearly twelve-fold, from approximately 500 patent families in 2011, to nearly 6000 patent families in 2021. The current rate of increase in filings in this area now far exceeds the average rate of increase in the number of patent filings for all technology areas, showing that quantum computing is one of the most active and fastest-growing technological areas in the patent world.
Beyond the pure number of filings, what is also interesting is where these applications are being filed and who is filing them. The EPO’s data indicates a trend towards the filing of international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications. This is an indicator of the relatively high potential commercialisation value attributed to patents in the quantum computing field, and a desire of applicants to obtain protection for their quantum computing inventions in multiple jurisdictions. The most active applicants in the quantum field are predominantly either large US or Japanese corporations, or US academic institutions. This shows that, while large corporations are unsurprisingly seeking to gain a foothold in this emerging technological area, academic research is likely to remain one of the driving forces behind quantum computing development and commercial exploitation.
Quantum computing sub-areas
The EPO’s analysis includes insight into the various technological sub-areas of quantum computing and looks at the growth of these sub-areas relative to one another. The three main technological sub-areas considered are: physical realisations of quantum computing, error correction and mitigation, and the use of quantum computing in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications.
Physical realisation in quantum computing refers to the various platforms and technologies used to implement quantum systems, such as superconducting qubits, trapped ions, and topological qubits. These physical systems provide the foundation for building quantum computers, and enable researchers to test and develop quantum algorithms and applications. The EPO’s analysis reveals not only that the total number of applications in this area is increasing sharply, but that the percentage of quantum computing patent applications related to physical realisation has witnessed a strong increase in the last decade, and is now at an all-time high.
Error correction and mitigation in quantum computing are techniques used to combat the effects of noise and errors that arise due to the inherent fragility of quantum systems. These techniques involve redundantly encoding quantum information and employing various algorithms and protocols to correct or reduce errors. The report from the EPO indicates that this sub-area is experiencing similar growth to physical realisation (which is unsurprising given the extent to which these sub-areas are interrelated), with patent filings at an all-time high, having experienced consistent growth in the last decade.
Quantum computing in AI/ML refers to the manner in which quantum computing is used for or adapted to facilitate AI/ML models. A basic example is the parallelism of existing quantum computing systems being particularly suited to execution of existing AI/ML algorithms. However, this sub-field also includes direct adaptations of quantum computing technology for specific AI/ML algorithms. Examples include quantum generative adversarial networks (QGAN), quantum neural networks (QNN), and quantum reinforcement learning (QRL). Of the three sub-areas analysed, quantum computing in AI/ML showed the most significant increase in both total filings and percentage of total quantum computing filings. This trend is likely to continue given the recent explosion in interest in AI/ML, and quantum computing in general.
The EPO’s report is an indicator that, although the number of patent applications in the area of quantum computing is still relatively small, the field is experiencing significant momentum and surpassing the average growth rate of patent applications in all other technological fields. Numbers are low but rapidly on the rise. This is unsurprising given the billions of dollars of investment in this area. However, with previously insignificant sub-areas such as quantum computing in AI/ML now rising to prominence, it remains to be seen exactly how the quantum computing patent landscape will look in the next decade.
EPO news release “Quantum computing technologies on the rise”, 25 January 2023.Read more