"Patents, patience and quantum ideas", by Paul Guinnessy (Physics World, May 1999)

This article is publicly available on the web (here), thanks to the excellent magazine Physics World. In case this link to Physics World breaks in the future, here is a synopsis of the article:

Theme: There are already on the books plenty of patents on quantum cryptography and quantum computation. Will they pay off? After all, they have a finite lifetime of 20 years, and the technology to implement them is years away.

example: patents (US and/or UK) on quantum cryptography:


David DiVincenzo(IBM)

"My general view is that patents have had almost no influence on the course of quantum computing,"

"It is standard IBM policy to patent new discoveries, but I consider quantum computing too far from application for patents to be of much significance."

Chris Monroe(NIST)

"Our group has not considered obtaining patents, primarily because we are skeptical that a useful quantum computer will even exist in the next two decades. Of course, there is always the chance that some breakthroughs will occur that will vindicate researchers who are now obtaining patents, but it is more likely that these patents will expire well before their possible usefulness."

Daniel Gottesman (Los Alamos)

(he has applied for a patent on his work on quantum error correction)

"It is quite likely that patents granted today will expire before they can become useful. Of the small-scale quantum computers that have already been demonstrated experimentally, none has the potential to scale up to a commercially useful size without an additional technological breakthrough. People who concentrate on patents instead of publications will find themselves ignored."

Seth Loyd(MIT)

"The only quantum information-processing technology that has commercial applications in its current form is quantum cryptography. But quantum technologies are improving rapidly, and it seems quite likely that some such technologies will see commercial use in the not so distant future."

Peter Shor (AT&T)

(he already has a patent on his work on quantum error correction)

"If my patent does not expire before quantum computing becomes feasible – as is quite likely (to) happen in my opinion – I think it will be used."

"I suspect that some of the patents may make claims that are excessively broad. This is a problem for patents in all fields, but I think it is especially likely to be a problem in newly discovered fields."

Andrew Steane (Oxford University)

"it is hard to spot something for which a patent would hold water. At the moment the field is very much ideas driven, and ideas – as opposed to devices and techniques – are hard to patent".

David Deutsch (Oxford University)

"In general, I take a dim view of patents and copyrights."

"(quantum computation is) a basic phenomenon of nature, like heat engines or classical computation. I am only interested in fundamental theory, which is not – and definitely should not be – patentable".

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