China’s patent numbers reveal it is closing the gap to US quantum dominance

The United States and China have adopted different strategies for developing quantum technology – China has focused on using quantum science to secure communications, while the US has sought to develop advanced computing capabilities.

But the latest patent data released by China’s intellectual property office suggests that Beijing may be changing its approach in a field that the US has long led.

Quantum computing, in which quantum science is harnessed to solve complex problems significantly faster than classical computers, accounted for 56.5 percent of China’s total domestic patent grants from 2013 to 2022.

Quantum communications, which use quantum physics to protect data, accounted for 30.3 percent of domestic patents during the same period, according to an article in the March issue of the magazine China Invention & Patent published by the National Intellectual Property Administration of China .

Over the past 10 years, China’s quantum technology has “achieved a historic leap” from lagging behind major countries to becoming a leader in patents and production, the article said, referring to the country’s domestic quantum landscape.

In the same period, the country achieved “quantum superiority,” according to another article on global quantum patents in the same issue of the magazine.

China accounted for 37 percent of quantum patent applications worldwide from 2003 to 2022, surpassing the US with just over 28 percent, the article said.

In particular, China has emerged as a clear leader in the field of quantum communications, with milestones such as the launch of the first quantum communications satellite.

However, when it comes to quantum computing and quantum sensing – or advanced motion detection technology – it is widely accepted that the US has been leading for a long time.

A 2022 report from London-based data analytics firm GlobalData stated that China was behind the US in quantum computing technology by about five years.

But a new report released last month by the same company said the countries are now “almost even.”

The U.S. is believed to have the lead in most aspects of quantum computing, except in specific subcategories such as research related to superconductors, according to a report presented last month by the American think tank RAND Corporation to a Commission Review hearing. US-China Economic and Security.

The RAND report, however, said China’s advantage in specific aspects of quantum computing makes the US lead “debatable.”

The US incorporated quantum technology into national planning in 1994, while China only integrated the technology into national planning in 2013, according to the article on global quantum technology.

China in 2009 surpassed the US in total quantum patent applications for the first time, despite its late start in the field.

“It developed rapidly,” the article said, allowing it to produce advanced technologies at a leading level alongside the US. Still, the US holds the largest share of highly cited quantum patents, particularly in quantum computing.

Chinese scientists also publish less impactful research on quantum sensing, which has greater military potential, according to the RAND report.

However, quantum sensing has received considerably more attention in China, and patents are expected to increase significantly, according to the Chinese paper.

International cooperation between scientists is an important feature of quantum research.

Last year, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order to restrict US investment in advanced technologies like quantum, which were linked to countries of concern – such as China.

The RAND report – presented at a hearing on the military deployment of quantum technology in China – suggested that “narrowly targeted” export controls on Chinese organizations would pose a low risk of impacting American scientific progress there.

In contrast, the Chinese report on global quantum patents said that “international cooperation needs to be deepened and expanded,” including through technical cooperation with the US.

Despite major advances in China’s quantum technology, the article stated that the environment for innovation still “needs to be optimized,” including more policy planning.

Article published in the South China Morning Post, on March 26, 2024.


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