One of the areas that is likely to yield patentable technology in the coming decades is the development of Quantum computers. This technology has not yet been made effective in the laboratory as yet but the prospects that this technology has to alter the ability of ordinary computers to undertake computational tasks which are at present considered impossible is truly tantalising. The latest breakthrough in this area of technology is that scientists can now store the outputted data from these computers at room temperature for as long as 39 minutes when usually current quantum computers need to be cooled to just above absolute zero to maintain data integrity.
The significance of this discovery is that it extends the ability of current quantum computers to conduct as many as 20 million operations before data integrity is lost in relation to a single qubit. Quantum computers are different from classical computers because they conduct calculations on the basis of qubits rather than bits. This allows the computer to reach processing speeds many orders of magnitude greater than what is currently available in classical computing systems The promise of quantum computers is therefore that many modern computational problems in cryptography, physics, astronomy and computing could be calculated by a quantum computer where a classical computer simply does not the ability to calculate with sufficient speed.
An example of the type of problem which should be solvable with a quantum computer where it is currently not with a classical computer is integer factoring using very large integers. Many of the codes and methods of encryption which are currently used in electronic commerce and by the military as well as government departments are based on cyphers with integer factoring that could potentially be broken by quantum computers. For this reason there is ample funding available for research in the area of quantum computing and there is a race amongst the world’s research institutions to make the technology practical enough to be applied to these types of real world problems.
Although it is unclear what legal issues will arise as a result of the development of the capacities of quantum computers, the race like nature of the development process is likely to create a race to patent the technology once it is available and therefore protect the commercial value of the technology that will inevitably result.