Why IBM is no longer interested in breaking patent records—and how it plans to scale innovation in the age of open source and quantum computing

For 29 years in a row, IBM leads the United States in producing patents, at its peak filing 10,000 US patent applications a year for innovations from ATMs to e-commerce, two-nanometer chips, and quantum computing. It’s been an incredible run–but the new IBM is ready for new challenges.

As part of our relentless capacity for reinvention, we have decided in 2020 that we will no longer pursue the goal of numeric patent leadership. As a result, 2022 will be the first time since 1993 that IBM has not claimed the top spot in the list of companies with the most patents in the US.

Why, after three decades, such a radical change? One word: focus.

Today, IBM is a hybrid cloud and AI company. While we will remain an intellectual property powerhouse with one of the strongest US patent portfolios, as part of our innovation strategy, the focus means we are taking a more selective approach to patenting. We devote more of our talent and resources to achieving high-quality, high-impact development in the specific areas of hybrid cloud, data and AI, automation, security, semiconductors, and quantum computing. .

Patents are only one measure of a company’s true capacity for innovation. IBM will continue to patent new technology, but patents alone are an incomplete barometer than ever.

Our long-standing commitment to research as part of our business model means we will continue to create technologies that our clients and the world rely on. When it comes to cutting-edge tech fields—AI, cloud, security, semiconductors, and quantum computing—innovation requires deep focus. These fields are so dynamic and complex, that we need multiple hands on deck for every breakthrough.

Increasingly, this requires balancing trade secrets and patents with an R&D style called “open innovation”, where teams from different organizations and institutions collaborate with internal and external players. . They share knowledge openly about problems and communities.

Take the example of one of the most interesting and promising technologies, quantum computing. IBM’s work in quantum computing has been intentionally based on a combination of proprietary and open innovation since day one. Our quantum hardware is always developed internally and protected by trade secrets and patents. But in 2016, we made the decision to give access to these pioneering quantum computers through the cloud. For the first time, quantum computing is no longer the domain of research scientists. Anyone with an internet connection can access the world’s most sophisticated quantum technology. We support this by open-sourcing our Qiskit software so that developers around the world can learn how to build quantum applications.

It literally changes the game. Today, more than 1.5 million people have downloaded the Qiskit software development kit, there are more than 450,000 registered IBM Quantum users and researchers have used our technology to write more than 1,700 scientific papers. publication. We are working with academic partners to set up quantum computers in Germany and Japanwith more systems coming online in Canada, South Korea, and the Cleveland Clinic in the US

Meanwhile, our IBM Quantum Network stands at more than 200 members, with businesses from Boeing at HSBC at Mitsubishi Chemist using quantum computers to pursue industry-changing research.

We see collaboration, not exclusivity, as the best way to advance technology and build a quantum industry.

This is not to say that intellectual property protection, as a concept, will disappear. IBM, like most companies, still protects its innovations with copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents. You can never innovate at scale without a thoughtful, proactive IP strategy to protect parts of what you do. A balanced approach to innovation requires that technical teams devote more energy to unlocking innovation, building community, and delighting customers through great design and user experiences, such as they do to protect their innovations and inventions.

Today, there is no simple measure to capture the nature of innovation. However, our experience suggests some goalposts that will help us do this in this new era.

Innovation is a combination of talent, resources, and how talent uses those resources. That might involve getting a patent, contributing to open source, or creating entirely new markets, like the work we’re doing to build a quantum industry. And even if you can’t count it in terms of patent numbers or even R&D dollars, the progress will be evident as the life-changing applications of these exciting new technologies continue to development.

That’s why we bet you need to account for the true impact of a given technology—not just how many patents were issued while building it.

Dario GilPh.D., yes SVP of IBM and the director of IBM Research.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of luck.

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