What happens when quantum computing and patents collide?
UPDATE: Sept. 14, 2018: The House of Representatives passed the bipartisan National Quantum Initiative Act (HR 6227) on Thursday afternoon. The equivalent Senate bill (S 3143) remains to be put to a vote.
The bill is an important first step to foster collaboration between academia, industry and government. Neither of these groups can finish, let alone win, the quantum computing race alone.
Industry, for example, has the ability and resources to scale hardware to necessary levels for quantum computing breakthroughs, whereas academia is better suited theoretically to make these systems work, said Martin Laforest, senior business development manager and quantum technology expert at ISARA Corporation and senior advisor for strategic initiatives at the University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing, speaking at a Hudson Institute event in D.C. on Wednesday.
With paradigm-shifting national security implications, quantum computing is one of the most important emerging technologies for the government, which will play an important role doling out resources to researchers to fund the next wave of breakthroughs and coordinating quantum leadership.
- The House of Representatives will vote on the National Quantum Initiative Act (HR 6227) on Thursday. The bill, introduced in the House and Senate in late June, sets out a federal program and 10-year strategy to accelerate and coordinate quantum research and development, especially through interagency and public-private partnerships.
- A coordinated strategy for quantum computing is important for national security reasons. But for the U.S., a country with preeminent industry and academic spheres, quantum leadership is falling behind. In 2014, the U.S. was on par with or leading China in quantum computing patent categories.
- A surge in global quantum patents since 2014 has been driven by China, which has had three times as many patent applications in the last five years as the U.S., said Stephen Ezell, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, speaking at a Hudson Institute panel on quantum computing in D.C. Wednesday. As the balance of quantum computing patent applications stands now, Asia looks well poised to lead in quantum applications in coming years.
With any new technology, especially one so hyped, an onslaught of patents is expected. Intellectual property is an important indicator of corporate innovation, but sometimes the systems meant to protect IP end up bogged down in corporate politics or misinformation.
Tracing how earlier emerging technologies have performed in the patent market could provide clues as to what will happen as quantum computing matures, according to Charles Duan, senior fellow and director of tech and innovation policy at R Street Institute, speaking on the Hudson Institute panel.
Computer and internet technologies saw a lack of expertise in examination by the patent office coupled with strong incentives for big companies to get patents to use against smaller businesses, he said, which resulted in a glut of patents.
More recently, scores of banks are applying for blockchain patents, a technology often misunderstood or overhyped. Questions persist as to whether the patent office understands the technology and its implications well enough to fairly assess granting patent applications.
Standardization has helped with patent protections and frictionless licensing systems in areas like communications protocols, Duan said. But some experts, including fellow panelist Chris Monroe, University of Maryland professor of physics and chief scientist at IonQ, contend it is too early for the industry to have standardization.
One critical part of quantum computing patent law going forward is greater expertise in examination. Patent examiners, often with little technical expertise, have limited time to review any given patent, Duan said. They need more resources, non-patent literature and opportunities to develop technical literacy.
While a myriad of factors is at play, patents and IP protections can play a crucial role in determining which businesses or organizations sit atop the quantum revolution. And quantum leadership is important because the next stage of global computing leadership is up for grabs, Ezell said.
Changes in computing architecture first saw the leadership centered in Boston and then moved to Silicon Valley, where it currently resides. Quantum computing is expected to completely shift the global computing paradigm.
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