Photonic quantum computers—the kind that startup PsiQuantum Corp. has been developing—have always been thought of as a moonshot technology, even in the quantum computing business. But now, Microsoft and others are investing $215 million into the company, hoping that this ugly duckling will turn into a profitable swan.
In contrast to Honeywell’s trapped ion technology, which computes slowly, and Google’s superconducting technology, which requires conditions near absolute zero, PsiQuantum’s photonic technology has none of these disadvantages because photons are fast and do not feel heat. In fact, PsiQuantum has the advantage of scalability—they promise that a complete 1 million-qubit system would be the size of a conference room, and they think that they can get it built in only a few years. Such a quantum computer would be able to perform useful operations and would take quantum computing from costly R&D to profitable applications.
While a newcomer to quantum computing--founded only in 2016--PsiQuantum has been very active in obtaining patents. Worth noting is the fact that PsiQuantum appears to be obtaining its patents under the Prioritized Patent Examination program, which allows an inventor to pay a fee to have an expedited examination schedule. Participation in the Prioritized program can allow a patent to go from filing to issuance in less than a year, as can be seen by U.S. Patent No. 10,379,420, PsiQuantum's earliest issued patent, which was filed on March 22, 2019 and was issued on August 13, 2019, less than five months later. PsiQuantum has eight issued patents in total. Given that commercial applications of a quantum computer are at least five years into the future, the most likely reason that PsiQuantum wants issued patents today instead of just obtaining a filing date is to impress investors. And judging by the recent $215 million investment, it appears to have worked.