Home Insights Quantum computing: start-up or up-start? Part 2

Quantum computing: start-up or up-start? Part 2

Read time
4  minute read
Date published
19 May 2023

In part one of our series on quantum computing, Dr Simone Shu-Yen- Lee provided an introductory look at the incredible potential of quantum computers and discussed the extraordinary computational power of a ‘qubit’, as a ‘quantum bit’ is known. 

In part two of this series, Simone will chart some of the patent filings in quantum computing and then take a further look at the potential applications for quantum computing technologies.

New IPC classifications

It is evident that numbers of patent applications directed to quantum computing subject matter is becoming more significant.  In 2019, this was recognised by an addition to the International Patent Classification (‘IPC’) which is a category specifically devoted to quantum computing.

“G06N 10/00 Quantum computers, i.e. computer systems based on quantum-mechanical phenomena [2019.01]”

In 2022, this was updated to a set of categories as follows:

“G06N 10/00 Quantum computing, i.e. information processing based on quantum-mechanical phenomena [2022.01]

G06N 10/20 Models of quantum computing, e.g. quantum circuits or universal quantum computers [2022.01]

G06N 10/40 Physical realisations or architectures of quantum processors or components for manipulating qubits, e.g. qubit coupling or qubit control [2022.01]

G06N 10/60 Quantum algorithms, e.g. based on quantum optimisation, or quantum Fourier or Hadamard transforms [2022.01]

G06N 10/70 Quantum error correction, detection or prevention, e.g. surface codes or magic state distillation [2022.01]

G06N 10/80 Quantum programming, e.g. interfaces, languages or software-development kits for creating or handling programs capable of running on quantum computers; Platforms for simulating or accessing quantum computers, e.g. cloud-based quantum computing

This re-categorisation acknowledges that there are sufficient and considerable patent applications having quantum computing as subject matter such that several distinct categories are now necessary. I would expect this future changes would be frequent and essential as this industry matures.

Who are the big patent filers?

IPC classifications, such as those above, help us group together patent activity by subject matter, including quantum computing technologies.

I did a quick search for companies who are filing the most International Patent Applications (also known as ‘PCT applications’) in quantum computing technologies (G06N10/20 to G06N10/80) and plotted it below (see Chart 1). It is expected that there is still some pre-2019 patenting activity that would not yet be re-classified but may be in a more general group (i.e. G06N 99/00) however just plotting G06N10 would give us an idea of the overall trend.

As you’d expect, companies such as IBM, Intel, Google and Microsoft are actively pursuing patent applications in quantum computing. IBM certainly leads the way with over 800 PCT applications in this field.  It may come as a surprise to see investments from Chinese companies such as Alibaba and Beijing Baidu.

The second graph (Chart 2) shows the number of PCT applications filed over the last few years (in IPC class G06N). The numbers are lower in the last couple of years as it takes about 18 months before the applications are published.  Clearly, there is an exponential increase in patent filings from 2014 to 2022 indicating that quantum computing technologies are maturing and being commercialised.

A trawl through the Australian patent database (AUSPAT) reveals a similar trend in Australia for patent cases in the IPC classification G06N10 and the sorted cases by applicant name.  The chart below shows the same multi-national companies filing in Australia; IBM, Microsoft, Intel and Google.

The patent filings in Australia (see Chart 4) mirror a similar trend happening in PCT filings. Here I have searched the Australian patent database for patent application filings (in the IPC class G06N10) and sorted the filings by year of filing. There is a marked exponential increase in the years 2018 to 2020 with less filings in 2021 and 2022.  Again, there could be less Australian cases visible in 2021 and 2022 as there is a delay of about 18 months from the filing of the PCT applications before the Australian applications are filed.

We can see from both the PCT and Australian filings that the traditional computing and IT giants may continue to dominate quantum technologies in the future. But there is ample opportunity for other new companies, including start-ups, to develop future industries by having appropriate intellectual property protection in place and to back future core materials and manufacturing techniques which could form the basis of mainstream quantum computing devices.

But how can we use the advantages that we may gain from quantum computing and associated technologies?

Applications for quantum technologies

The applications for quantum technologies are potentially enormous but here’s what a few experts are anticipating:

  • The ability to simulate and solve complex problems ranging from weather systems, energy management, chemistry, physics and biology. In particular, there is potential to simulate complex drug interaction to discover and develop new drugs
  • Precision sensors for space industries and mining
  • Advanced navigation and timing for defence industries

There has been speculation about a potential ‘quantum revolution’ and the disruptions it could pose to certain industries, especially those highly dependent on encryption such as communications, financial transactions, critical infrastructure, Blockchain and cryptocurrency.  These industries could be vulnerable as quantum computing has the potential to make current encryption techniques redundant.

Quantum computing and its associated technologies is really in its infancy and can be likened to the early days of silicon chip development with classical computers or even the space race in the sixties.

If we look at the regions where PCT applications in quantum computing are being filed, about 40% of the PCT applications originate from North America (i.e. US and CA) and the rest are from Asia and Europe. If this trend continues, we may well be seeing a decline of power held by the United States which they have traditionally held due to their superior research and technology capabilities. This makes this a very exciting space to watch over the coming years.