The Quantum technology sector has experienced accelerated growth in the last decade, driven by increased investment in research and development, advancements in the technology, and an expanding list of applications for which quantum technologies can be used.
The Europe Quantum Technology Market Report estimated the European quantum technology market to be worth almost $2.5 billion in 2021, with an estimated growth of 21.1% between 2021 and 20311. In line with this, the number of patent filings for quantum technologies is expected to grow significantly in the years ahead.
The European Patent Office (EPO) is publishing a series of insight reports related to quantum technologies, which provide an overview of patent trends in this sector between 2001 and 2021. The second report2 in the series looks specifically at quantum computing, a technology that offers significant advantages over classical computing systems.
This report shows that the number of patent families in the field of quantum computing has increased significantly in recent years, reflecting the growing number of inventions in this field. Interestingly, quantum computing inventions show a faster growth rate than inventions in all other technical fields.
Sub-Sectors of Quantum Computing
Looking at sub-sectors of quantum computing, the EPO’s insight report analysed three in more detail. The first of these, physical realisations in quantum computing, relates to how quantum technology is implemented on real world infrastructure . The number of international patent families in this sub-sector are increasing year on year: in 2021 there were approximately 360 patent families, which accounted for 20% of all quantum computing patents.
Quantum error correction, relating to methods that overcome drawbacks of present quantum technology such as decoherence and other quantum noise, is also experiencing accelerated growth in line with the technology sector as a whole. International patent families for this sub-sector have increased significantly since 2011, with error correction being the focus of approximately 25% of all quantum technology patents.
The final sub-sector analysed was quantum computing and artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML). Out of all three sub-sectors discussed, this is perhaps the newest area of quantum technology, with significant growth not apparent until 2015. In 2021, compared to the other sub-sectors covered in the report, quantum computing with AI/ML had the lowest number of international patent families (approximately 225), and was only responsible for 15% of quantum computing patents. This sub-sector is, however, experiencing the highest rate of growth, which is projected to continue.
Trends in Application Type
Looking at the technology sector again as a whole, and the type of applications that are filed for quantum computing, the percentage of applications that are filed as international (WO) patent applications has been increasing year on year. In 2021, approximately 65% of all quantum computing applications were WO applications. This is significantly above average with respect to all other technical fields, where in the same year only 28% were filed as international applications.
The majority of quantum computing applications being international suggests that protection in multiple countries will be desirable, indicating that there is a high commercial value in the product.
Trends in Applicants
Between 2001 and 2021, the most active applicants for patent applications in quantum computing were, as expected, large corporations such as IBM, Toshiba, Intel, and Microsoft. The mostly US-based list highlights the US’s importance as a research hub for quantum technology. However, in the quantum computing/AI sub-sector in particular, the origin of the applicants is slightly more diverse, with companies from Japan, China, Canada and Europe also among the top applicants.
While the majority of the most active applicants are large companies, when the most recent data, 2020 to 2021 is analysed, there is an increased number of universities (which are again, US-based) among the top 10. This is an increase compared to previous years, when this list was dominated by large companies, and reflects the continuing research advancements in this field.
The field of quantum computing is growing rapidly, reflected in the growing number of patent applications filed in this sector. This rate of increase is in fact above average with respect to the growth seen in patent applications for all other inventions, highlighting the continued research, development, and investment in this technology .
Out of the three sub-sectors analysed, quantum computing and AI/ML is experiencing the most dynamic growth. Integration of AI/ML with quantum computing is at the very edge of these two emerging technologies, and thus we expect the increase in patents filed towards this application to continue to increase as more and more advancements are made in this field.
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