A section of the light-based quantum computer created by researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
Applications by Chinese companies for patents related to quantum computing have surged in the past two years alongside an industry boom and increasing awareness of the field, though experts said the country still has a long way to go to catch up with foreign competitors.
Chinese companies' invention patent applications in the field of quantum computing grew from 137 as of September 2020 to 804 by October this year, according to the Global Quantum Computing Technology Patent Filings Ranking List (Top 100). The companies on the list are mainly from 18 countries and regions, with the United States accounting for 40 percent, China for 15 percent and Japan for 11 percent.
The list was released by IncoPat Global Patent Database and intellectual property media platform IPR Daily. The patent applications in quantum computing were publicly available worldwide as of Oct 18.
He Ruijun of the China Computer Federation said there are two main reasons behind the Chinese companies' fast growth.
"With push and support from the governments and the whole society, Chinese companies have been showing increasing interest in quantum computing research and development," said He.
It is believed that quantum computing R&D could lead to the creation of ultrapowerful computers able to simulate extremely complex models, allowing new discoveries in fields ranging from medicine to material sciences, as well as greatly improving the accuracy of weather and financial forecasting and the efficiency of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
"On the other hand, China has been doing better than ever in intellectual property protection, so that enterprises could see better returns from R&D investment," He added.
The quantum computing patents of Tencent, for example, have surged from merely two as of 2020 to 93 recently.
With 234 patent applications filed, Origin Quantum, a quantum computing company established in 2017 in the Hefei National High-tech Industry Development Zone in Hefei, Anhui province, ranked first in China and sixth in the world.
Other Chinese companies listed among the top 100 include such tech giants as Baidu, Huawei and Alibaba.
Guo Guoping, a professor of quantum computing at the Hefei-based University of Science and Technology of China and chief scientist of Origin Quantum, noted that Origin has replaced Intel in sixth place since the previous list, which was released in 2020.
"But I don't think Origin has really surpassed Intel in quantum computing technology, and we still have a long way to go to catch up with such extraordinary companies as Intel and United States tech giant IBM," said Guo.
With 1,323 patent applications filed, IBM ranked first on the quantum computing list.
US search giant Google ranked second with 762 patent applications, and Canadian quantum computing company D-Wave ranked third with 501, according to the list.
A patent applicant may need to refer to related previous patents for a new application, so patent citation is an important indicator in measuring the value of existing patents, according to He of the China Computer Federation.
He noted that 133 of Origin's patents had been cited worldwide in new applications and the company thus ranked 10th for patent citation among the 100 companies.
Guo, the Hefei professor, expects that although it might take about 20 years to develop an all-purpose quantum computer, quantum computing itself will have competence in solving specific and practical problems concerning people's lives and industrial production in three to five years.