For many years, IBM has received more patents than any other company in America. But why do we at IBM think that’s such a big deal? Why do patents matter so much?
The answer is simple. Patents are the evidence of research and innovation, and the seeds of the bleeding-edge technological world of tomorrow. At IBM, our most recent patents span topics including artificial intelligence (AI), hybrid cloud, cyber-security and – most importantly – quantum computing. It doesn’t get more future-looking than that.
Patented research advances routinely contribute to waves of innovation and drive a nation’s economic performance. For centuries, patents have been an assurance of the protection of inventions, motivating researchers to keep innovating. The very first U.S. patent was registered in 1790 to Samuel Hopkins from Philadelphia, for inventing a new way to make potash, an ingredient in fertilizer. The other two patents granted that year were for a new candle-making process and a novel method of building flour-milling machinery. All three important inventions are still very much in use today.
Patent protection empowers companies to invest billions of dollars in research and development, leading to improved solutions to the world’s problems. Innovation is what helps us to address pandemics, climate change, energy security and food shortages, among other challenges. In recent years, patents have given the world such critically important technologies as CRISPR, graphene, 3D printers and GPS systems. IBM researchers, for our part, have patented speech recognition technology, the automated teller machine (ATM), the hard disk drive, and even the late floppy disk, to name a few.
But the patents that most excite us here at IBM, and me personally, are those that seem to point the way towards a very different and brighter future. This is where quantum computing comes in. This next-generation technology is getting ever better. I am convinced that in the near future, products relying on quantum computation will be an integral part of our daily lives, as quantum computers help us solve currently unsolvable problems. By inventing and patenting quantum technology that doesn’t yet exist, IBM is ensuring our quantum future.
Take our recent quantum computing patent that describes a new way of running molecular simulations. A quantum computer should be able to perform such simulations much faster and across a much wider molecular space than a classical computer ever could, paving the way to the discovery of many new molecules for drugs and catalysts. We are not there yet, because our quantum computers haven’t yet surpassed their classical cousins. But once they do, this patented innovation will come in incredibly handy. Molecular simulations are a major reason the world was able to develop vaccines to combat COVID-19 in record-breaking time. If we can do it better in the future, we will be able to combat pandemics faster.
In fact, a number of our patents detail new ways of improving our quantum computers, to help them leap into the future faster. Quantum computers are still very ‘noisy,’ meaning that the quantum bits (qubits) they rely on today are easily affected by any external disturbances. Several patents suggest innovative methods to make qubits more stable and even propose ways to correct the remaining errors in them, what’s known as ‘quantum error-correction.’ We can’t do it today – but when we create our first fully stable qubit, we’ll know how to get rid of the errors it’ll inevitably have.
We are betting on the future. We don’t just want to be ready for the future, we want to help create it.