Quantum Computing has progressed significantly in the last few years, to the point where it might soon become a commercially viable technology. It’s very likely that, in the next few years, more QC companies besides D-Wave will crop up. Once that happens, patents will become fairly important in the QC industry.
If you are interested in quantum computing as an industry, it would be unwise to ignore patents, whether you like them or not. Small startups whose products are protected by patents that they own themselves, are more likely to be funded by venture capitalists. Large companies like IBM, Apple, Microsoft, etc, try to patent everything they can. They use their patent portfolios offensively, to kill small startups (although more often they just buy the startups out) or defensively, to threaten with mutually assured destruction other large companies that own equally formidable patent arsenals. American universities frequently patent the fruits of their research, even though that research is subsidized by the taxpayer.
In two previous posts, I gave my personal perspective about patents as they relate to quantum computing.
- Quantum Computing Patents (part 1)
- Quantum Computing Patents (part 2)
The NPR (National Public Radio) show “This American Life” just aired an episode on “patent trolls”. I thought it was excellent, very well done, a real eye-opener. Check it out:
441: When Patents Attack!
Originally aired 07.22.2011
(This American Life, NPR and WBEZ in Chicago)
A troll is an unpleasant mythical creature that lives under a bridge, and demands money from anyone who wants to use his bridge. A “patent troll” does the same thing with patents instead of bridges. Patent trolls are not small inventors or startups. They are giant corporations that do no inventing or manufacturing themselves. They just buy patents from small inventors and sue companies that are using the invention but refuse to pay exorbitant royalties.
I’m all in favor of patents, including software patents (I’m the author of a few QC software patents myself). However, I do agree with the main thesis of “When Patents Attack!” that the current US patent system works very poorly and needs serious reforms. (Reforms that favor small inventors, not giant corporations)
Each side in a patent lawsuit can end up spending 5 million dollars in legal costs. This pretty much puts the patent power game in the hands of large corporations and expensive lawyers and out of the hands of small inventors like me.