April 8, 2019

EPO study on patenting activity in quantum technology

The European Union launched its EUR 1 billion Quantum Technology (QT) Flagship programme at the end of October 2018. In the decade ahead the programme will supply funding to support innovation in QT, getting it out of the lab and into the market.

At the launch event, as indicated in the latest edition (March 2019) of EPO’s publication “Patent Information News”, the EPO presented a study of global patenting activity in QT. The EPO limited its analysis to “second-generation QT“, which may be defined as the manipulation of physical systems at quantum level involving phenomena like entanglement and superposition, for practical, industrially relevant, and commercially viable purposes.

The patent research was limited to quantum metrology and sensing (QMS), comprising five sub categories: gravitation, rotation and accelerating sensing (QGRA), magnetic field sensing (QMag), quantum imaging (QIm), chemical detection (QChem) and time measurement (QTime).

The study revealed a 2,000% increase in the number of inventions for which patent applications were published worldwide during the period of 2000-2017. However, second-generation QT is only just emerging, so the entire dataset contained less than 400 inventions described in about 600 patent applications, based on simple patent families.

In terms of national geography, the top three countries of origin of published patent applications are, in decreasing order of magnitude: China, the US and Europe.

A breakdown of patent applications into the five sub-categories mentioned above reveals that the top patent applicants in QGRA are the Chinese government, research institutions and universities. In QTime, the top applicants are Japanese industries, whereas in QMag, US industry files the highest number of applications. In QChem Chinese universities are at the forefront, while German industry tops QIm.

Since 2010 the hottest technologies in terms of published patent applications have been QChem and QGRA.

The EPO’s analysis revealed networks of collaborations, reflected as joint patent applications between two or more organisations.

The study also showed evidence of international influences, as demonstrated by patent applications citing one another.

In conclusion, patent activity in QMS is on the increase. The preliminary results of the analysis carried out by the EPO suggest that the majority of patent applications are in QGRA and QChem. Patent applicants tend to be active in just one technical field. The majority of patents published in QMS originate in China, the US and Europe.


Article by Joaquim Ferrer.